Local college students eager for the return of post-pandemic internships

Local college students are taking advantage of in-person and virtual summer internships to hone their skills. (Photo courtesy of StatePoint)

Internships were difficult for students to secure last year because of the pandemic, but businesses are again opening their doors to students wishing to gain experience in their fields of study.

Sarah Bell, career development specialist at Waynesburg University, said more than 10% of their students who enrolled in summer internships are working remotely. She said the option became more popular due to the pandemic and allows students to gain valuable experience while taking advantage of more flexible schedules.

Bell said internships are required for some majors, but all their departments encourage students to pursue internships or different experiential opportunities.

Waynesburg University senior Grace Deep, a human services major from Houston, Pa., recently started her summer internship at Blueprints nonprofit organization in Washington County. Deep said she is able to work with children in the summer program there. In addition, she assists with supervising visitations between children in foster homes and their biological parents.

Deep said interning lets students apply and make sense of what they learn in the classroom. That experience puts students out of their comfort zone, allowing and encouraging them to grow, she said.

“Real-life experiences and situations do not always go as the textbook says it will, and it is important to realize that. By going out into the world, it puts that into perspective,” she said. “You are expanding your knowledge and getting real time in the field you decided to spend the rest of your life in. Take advantage of it, ask questions, be in the moment and try your hardest.

“Even if it is something you end up hating, now you know that specific job is not for you. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find your forever job.”

Jeffrey Seabury of Uniontown, a senior at Washington & Jefferson College, majors in political science and psychology. He started recently as an intern for the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices at the Fayette County Courthouse for the summer.

Seabury isn’t required to have an internship before he graduates, but said he recognizes that getting on-the-job experience will afford him an opportunity that classes and books can’t.

“Internships are really important not just for college students, but high school students even,” he said. “It’s important to help you firm up what it is that you want to do. ... Getting real-world experience is what allows you to make those kinds of decisions.”

Although in-person experiences are returning, some students are still choosing to take remote internships.

Dr. Dana Shiller, associate dean of academic affairs at W&J, said beyond achieving credit for internships, students choose to intern to see the practical application of their learning and to narrow their job preferences.

For Carlie Durst of Uniontown, an internship led to a job position after graduation.

Durst, a 2021 graduate of Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, was looking for an internship close to home and close to the school. She found one right on campus, working for the Strategic Communication Department.

The corporate communication major started the internship in August and worked in the position until May, when she graduated. Since she interned during the school year, Durst balanced her internship, her job as an aid at a nursing home, her schoolwork and classes during that time.

She said it taught her how to better handle stress and good time management. In addition, it gave her the opportunity to work with many people at the university, leading her to accept a position as social media manager for Fayette LaunchBox, a startup accelerator, after her internship ended.

Internships are not required for all the degree programs at Penn State Fayette, but Shannon Sankey, social media strategist, said students complete relevant internships, field placements, clinical rotations, undergraduate research under faculty supervision, practical capstone projects or volunteer opportunities before graduation.

California University of Pennsylvania requires an internship for some of their programs, but Internship Center Director Meaghan Clister said those who do internships have a career advantage.

“Internships give students the opportunity to explore career paths, apply classroom learning to professional work experiences, and connect with professionals to begin building their network,” she said.

David King, a senior in wildlife and fishery management at Cal U., started an internship with the Pennsylvania Game Commission near his home in New Florence several weeks ago. Without the internship, King said he wouldn’t be able to experience the failures and successes that help build experience in the field before graduation.

King works with biologists and game wardens doing wildlife research. He said the connections he’s made will likely help him get a job after college.

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