Outside experience helps in job search

by Bryce Haugen

.Editor’s note: The following article is the final in a series of four that looks at how well the University prepares students for life after college. Today’s article looks at volunteering and internships.

Biochemistry and genetics junior Erin White balances school with a 10- to 15-hour-a-week job and the presidency of a community service organization.

“I feel the more involved I am, the more I can do,” said White, who leads the University’s Circle K Club, the collegestyle local branch of Kiwanis International. The aspiring pharmacy student has also spent time researching cancer as a University intern.

White said the research experience, along with her extensive volunteering at local hospitals, will help her get into graduate school – and get a job.

Thousands of University students such as White are supplementing their education with volunteer work and internships across the metropolitan area.

Some area employers said they prefer to hire experienced and well-rounded applicants. Internships provide that valuable working experience, while community service exposes students to enriching environments, the employers said.

Volunteering advantage

Employers rate interpersonal skills higher than any other category, according to a National Association of Colleges and Employers report released in January. The association surveyed 1,040 employers throughout the nation.

Employers look at more than how well a student does in school, said Paul Timmons, a course director at the University’s Career and Community Learning Center. Volunteer work cultivates skills that help students get jobs when they finish college, he said.

“Employers want students with good communication skills,” Timmons said. “They generally don’t care where you develop these skills.”

But volunteering isn’t about resume building, said elementary education junior Nicole Kremer, a three-year veteran of the University YMCA’s tutoring program, Y-Tutors.

“It’s that social-justice aspect,” she said. “That’s why I come back.”

Last year, 245 Y-Tutors served more than 1,100 students in eight Minneapolis schools. Another YMCA program, Y-Buddies, matched 150 University students with “little buddies” from the community.

Kremer said tutoring provides important experience and perspective.

“I never knew there was such a need for tutors,” she said.

Y-Tutors co-coordinator Michael Burke, a global studies senior, said he spends more time at the YMCA than anywhere else, including class.

“You’re investing so much more into this,” he said. “This is real life. The connections you’re making, the impact you’re having Ö it’s much more important than class.”

The YMCA volunteers said they do realize the importance of good grades.

Nearly 70 percent of employers screen applicants’ grade point averages, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers report. Employers often won’t even consider candidates with low GPAs, the report said.

But students who work should always try to add service to the mix, said Nikki Luft, a Circle K Club member and public relations sophomore.

“If you’re only working, you’re probably drinking on your down time,” she said, “or studying.”

Crucial experience

While volunteering shows leadership and dedication, internships are essential to landing jobs, employers said.

University alumna Gretchen Unger said that although the skills from a chemical engineering internship aren’t applicable to her current work, the internship helped her secure a job quickly after college.

Unger started at GeneSegues Inc. in 1999. The company, based in Chaska, Minn., is currently developing drug-delivery methods for cancer drugs.

Unger said many employers, including her, won’t even consider applicants without internship experience.

“Usually, if you’re any good, you’ll be able to get (an internship),” she said.

Some University departments offer internship courses, which combine classroom learning with real-world experiences.

Last semester, journalism senior Brad Spychalski wrote entertainment articles as part of an internship at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The journalism department offers the paid internship each fall.

Spychalski, who has also interned at several other places, said the experience gives him an edge over students who only write “canned lab” stories.

“In journalism, you’re not going to get a job unless you have internships,” he said.

Dance and women’s studies student Emily Serafy Cox splits her time between campus and the House Office Building in St. Paul, where she is a bill administrator for Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis. Each spring semester, the women’s studies department offers the internship to several students.

Serafy Cox, who is also the Minnesota Student Association legislative affairs chairwoman, said she’s not focused on a career per se but rather working to improve the community.

“If I happen to get paid for it, then all the better, because I need to eat too,” she said.

“I’m equipping myself with as many tools as possible, so I can be whatever I want to be.”

Internships are necessary

to secure initial postcollege jobs, said Seth Lockner, director of staff for Capella University, a Minneapolis-based online school.

Lockner said many company positions, such as in human resources, don’t require a specific degree.

“We look at (applicants’) general aptitude and intelligence,” he said.

Testing the job market

Service and internships sometimes affect career choices, several student interns and volunteers said.

Finance and economics senior Joe Dobberke, a Y-Buddies co-coordinator, said volunteering changed his outlook.

Dobberke said he once wanted to make a lot of money working for a corporation. Now, he said, he’s looking at a nonprofit career.

“In finance, the money’s always going to be there, but giving back is not something you always get to do in your job,” he said.

Internships and service learning allow students to explore careers before it’s too late, said Laurel Hirt, Career and Community Learning Center community involvement and service-learning coordinator.

“I would really hate to see a student leave the University with a degree Ö then realizing, ‘Oh, I can’t stand this. I hate this,’ ” she said.

Learning through service

Though the learning center is a part of the College of Liberal Arts, Hirt works with nearly 30 University professors from several colleges to integrate classroom learning with service.

“(Experiential learning) really puts education to work out in the community,” she said.

Hirt said service learning was once seen as a feel-good inferior to traditional classroom learning. But that’s flat-out wrong, she said.

University geology professor Roger Miller, who teaches an urban geography class with a service-learning component each fall, said students “can completely check out” of lectures.

“Service learning is far more rigorous than the more passive model of learning,” he said.

Students in Miller’s classes learn about Twin Cities neighborhoods firsthand. In the fall, one group developed a pamphlet to promote Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood businesses to light-rail riders, he said.

“The class really increases (students’) geographical knowledge and social knowledge of the Twin Cities,” he said.

Career service options

Besides service-learning opportunities, the learning center also provides career services for CLA students. Each college has its own career service center, and the University Counseling and Consulting Services is open to all students and offers career counseling.

The two centers also connect students with internship, service-learning and job opportunities. Some centers offer classes intended to give underclassmen academic and career direction.

Timmons said the college career centers are working to create a central Web site for all students and employers. The site will be ready in the fall, he said.

All students, including those in their first years, should “use their career centers, and use them as early as possible,” Timmons said.

“It’s important to me that our office does the best it can to help students achieve their goals once they leave here,” he said.