When I was a college student, I had a number of jobs. I worked for a lumber company. I was a roughneck on an oil rig near the intersection of Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado. I worked in a sugar factory and a center pivot irrigation plant.
These weren’t exactly internships – but these jobs taught me valuable lessons not written in any textbook, and prepared me to be successful in my career and in life.
I want NIU students to have similar opportunities to learn through immersion in the workplace- through internships. I believe that internships are one of the most important things that predict whether students will get jobs after graduation – more important than their grades, their school or their major.
Students who complete internships gain valuable work experience, develop career contacts and have an advantage competing for jobs and graduate school. In addition, students who complete at least one internship are happier with their educational outcomes and employment status post-graduation.
When I became president of NIU, I called upon our alumni to mentor students and assist in their networking, and I asked campus thought-leaders from Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, and the Alumni Association to create a plan for providing every NIU student with an internship experience.
Laurie Elish-Piper, Joe Matty and Eric Weldy worked collaboratively with NIU staff members Cathy Doederlein and Chad Glover to identify effective practices used at other institutions to create new opportunities at NIU. They conducted a pilot project to demonstrate that on- and off-campus employment opportunities could be transformed into internships.
Cathy and Chad are now taking on new roles as we centralize and coordinate our internship operations. Cathy is now director of Internships and External Relations in NIU Career Services while Chad is director of Internship Design and Development in the Office of the Vice Provost. They will continue to collaborate across divisions to expand internship and mentoring opportunities for NIU students, connecting students, academics, supporting services and the outside world, thereby using our triangle strategy to enhance student career success.
I encourage all students to attend one or both of those career fairs, and I urge faculty to join me not only in promoting those events but in accommodating students who are hungry for these unparalleled learning opportunities. Their future is our focus.
Underpinning a great internship program are opportunities that reinforce and enhance the learning process. That’s why Provost Lisa Freeman and I are excited by the launch this month of the On-Campus Internship Professional Development Series. Six sessions on different topics are planned to provide our students with priceless insight into what employers value beyond good grades and skills.
While the presenters this fall are from our campus, we’re hoping that employers and NIU alumni will lead some of these workshops going forward. We want NIU students to hear directly from leaders who come from the world of work. Eventually, we’d like to extend his series to include the local businesses and agencies where our students hold part-time jobs.
Such partnerships reinforce our strategic triangle model that connects students and faculty with alumni and stakeholders who provide internships and full-time positions.
Because I speak from personal experience, I guarantee that the bright, young minds looking to shake those hands and make those impressions will achieve their dreams for success.