The value of internships

College students and businesses can each find value in internships, which is a set period of time during which a college student works for a company or organization to get experience in a specific type of work.

Internships can be a foot-in-the-door for students as businesses often hire from their pool of interns. It is a proving ground for the intern to show the business their problem solving skills, commitment to the job, ability to work in a team and other unique attributes.

Interns gain firsthand experience and knowledge about the business and aspects about the occupation that could become their first job out of college – or life-long career choice. It also provides personal growth and makes the intern more competitive in the job market because they gain relevant skills to add to their resume.

Students are encouraged to participate in an internship which can be paid or unpaid. Clarke University and Loras College help to coordinate internships with area businesses and nonprofits. We spoke to student internship participants along with the business or organization where they interned to learn about their experience.

Learning about environmental activism

Recent Clarke grad Kaelyn Howe participated in a paid internship with Iowa Interfaith Power and Light (Iowa IPL) from May 2022 to October 2022. Iowa IPL’s mission is to empower Iowans of faith and conscience to take bold and just action on the climate crisis, which appealed to Howe.

“Growing up as part of what some call the Climate Generation, I’ve spent most of my life aware that the climate crisis is a big problem and it is up to us to do something about it,” Howe said. “When one of my professors, Dr. Michael Knock, recommended I apply for this internship, I instantly knew this would be an amazing opportunity to make a difference in a way that is meaningful to me.”

“Students work together to write Iowa IPL’s yearly environmental justice faith statement and plan our annual Called to Climate Action event, which this year revolved around climate anxiety and becoming better activists.” Deaconess Irene DeMaris, executive director of Iowa IPL, said. “The interns write social media content, blog posts, learn how to write opinion editorials and more. ”

Howe wrote a blog titled, Combating Climate Anxiety with Resilience, which appears on the Iowa IPL website.

Howe expresses her anxiety and excitement about the internship: “In entering this summer internship, I harbored a lot of anxiety along with my excitement to work for Iowa Interfaith Power and Light. I was honored to have the opportunity to learn more about the issue, amplify my voice as well as those that are less heard and take longer strides toward a brighter future. However, following my background as part of the Climate Generation, there were also countless grim feelings that had seeped between this enthusiasm.

What if nobody listens to me?

What if it’s too late?

What if I do everything I possibly can, and it is still not enough?”

Howe was surprised by how empowering it was to produce work that helped others.

“After I wrote my blog post I received a lot of gratitude from people who were impacted and inspired by it. Until this opportunity, I did not think my thoughts and words could have such a positive impact on my community.”

“College students bring so much to Iowa IPL each summer.

“Iowa IPL believes and invests in leadership development and Called to Climate Action is one vital way we do that. We have our students integrate their faith and climate action as they are forming their next steps in life which impacts their future careers. If we do not invest in and build up our upcoming workforce, that has a real impact on nonprofits and businesses. I’m proud of our student leadership program and of all our alumni who are out changing their world,” DeMaris added.

Howe, who graduated from Clarke with a major in history and a minor in Spanish in December, said that she learned and grew from the internship experience.

“I was able to learn and grow so much as a steward, a leader and as an individual by embarking on this new experience. Stepping out of my comfort zone and opening myself up to these new experiences felt like opening up the door to a very exciting and expansive future. I was able to connect with some truly amazing people who are working toward the same goal of a better future for this earth and I greatly value these relationships.”

Howe’s advice to other students considering an internship?

“Take the leap and immerse yourself in this work, soaking in everything you can in what feels like too short of a time.”

All students at Clarke are encouraged or required to complete one or two internships for credit in their field of study before they graduate. Most students complete an internship for academic credit. Clarke students have the support of profit and nonprofits in the community. There are many students who complete internships in their hometowns. Internships can be paid or unpaid.

To start the internship process, students contact Becky Herrig, director of Career Services.

“Each student is required to attend an internship orientation to discuss their learning objectives, discuss an appropriate employee site and discuss all details of the internship program,” Herrig said.

Internship applicants receive help to draft and proof their resume for the internship application along with support and tips on how to interview for the internship, as well as choosing professional attire.

“One of the highlights for Clarke’s internship process is the supportive collaborative environment with students, employers and faculty. All of us support the students to gain experience in the field and be successful in the internship. All stakeholders want the students to succeed in their internship and career plans,” Herrig said.

“Internships are still a relevant way for students to learn about their field. In today’s job market, passing exams with high scores and getting a degree does not necessarily offer the much-needed work experience you will need to succeed in a workplace,” Herrig said.

She recommends that students start looking for an internship many months in advance as internships are extremely competitive and students need to find the right fit for their learning outcomes and career plan.

“By completing an internship, you will be able to gain real-life exposure, grow your knowledge and determine if you are in the right career field. Internships not only provide you with the firsthand experience in the real working world but also enable you to understand the career trajectory for your desired job title. You can learn how to apply the knowledge you have acquired during an internship to your future workplaces. In addition internships are an excellent learning curve for young graduates and students while meeting new people and making connections in the professional world,” Herrig said.

“An internship helps students learn about their capabilities and ultimately encourage them to have a greater understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. It can be a challenging experience at times. Still, the benefits students gain from being pushed out of their comfort zone helps them tremendously in their future career,” Herrig said.

Learning about philanthropy

Nora Noonan, a sophomore at Loras College, started an internship with the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque in January 2022 which will continue through May of 2023. Noonan has two intern titles – philanthropy intern and YAPPERS student coordinator.

Her tasks include overseeing the YAPPERS program, which is a group of Dubuque high school students who are involved in raising money and making grants to nonprofits that address youth issues. Noonan also helps to plan events and develop communication strategies which ties into her public relations major. She will graduate in spring 2025.

“I have always loved being involved in my community and thought that the nonprofit world would be a good place to start when looking into future employment opportunities,” Noonan said. “Through my internship at the Foundation, I have been able to truly see the struggles and successes of Dubuque community. With their various initiatives and diverse team of leaders, I am honored to be a part of it.”

Noonan said she didn’t know that interning would give her so many opportunities to network and that she would learn important interpersonal skills that will give her an advantage when she enters the workforce.

“Internships are always worth your time and effort. Whether you come out of the experience liking the field/company or not, that is one more thing that you’ve learned about yourself. Internships are extremely valuable for both the student and the company overseeing the position. Students can gain on-the-job experience and career skills that they will take much further than the end of the internship period. Companies can invite a new perspective into their team and learn from their intern,” Noonan said.

“As a supervisor, I can honestly say that I grow as a person and a professional as the result of working with interns,” Jeff Danna, director of Communications at the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque said. “Each student who has worked as a part of my team has opened my eyes to new ideas and new ways of working. I truly value the experience I gain from working with the next generation of professionals and community leaders.”

“Interns are active and valued members of the Community Foundation family. The work they do directly supports our mission of strengthening communities and inspiring giving. They help build our capacity for making a positive impact in the Dubuque region,” Danna said.

Interns receive a stipend for each semester they work. Danna said his goal in the communications department is to have an intern working on the team at any given time of the year. Most departments in the Community Foundation have hosted interns including the impact team supporting various community initiatives such as the food provider network which combats food insecurity.

“Speaking for my team, our interns have supported the Community Foundation’s marketing and communications efforts through visual and written storytelling. This is a role that combines creativity with community impact. Interns that I have supervised have managed our social media postings, helped produce videos, written press releases, collected data for infographics, designed ads and print materials and helped update materials that nonprofits use for our annual Great Give Day,” Danna said.

“Internships are beneficial to both the students themselves and the organizations that hire them. These opportunities are important to help students grow and gain real-world experience that will prepare them for their careers. In many cases, businesses and organizations can help build connections and support that might not happen but for the internship. Interns bring fresh ideas and new skills to their roles, which can help organizations evolve to meet today’s needs. For the Community Foundation specifically, our work is about building a strong Dubuque region for the future. We strive to support the next generation of leaders, and internships with our organization are just one of the many ways we can do so,” Danna added.

Learning about human resources

Loras College senior Andrew Martinez was a human resources intern at A.Y. McDonald Mfg., a manufacturer of water works, plumbing, pumps and natural gas products. He was involved in recruiting in the foundry and factory areas and screened applications to determine if applicants will move to a phone interview, the next step in the interview process. Martinez scheduled and conducted the interview with the candidates.

Martinez also assisted and focused on the incorporation of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. He met with a DEI taskforce biweekly to discuss next steps and what they can do to make A.Y. an inclusive workplace for all.

Martinez said that being a sociology and business major, that, in his eyes, human resources was the sociology of business. “I took an HR class and an organizational behavior class and fell in love with the concepts we studied. From focuses on dealing with unions, stress management/burnout, hiring and the application process and so much more, I knew that this internship would expose me to many different areas of HR and I would not be focused in one particular area,” Martinez said.

The paid internship at A.Y. McDonald ended in December. Martinez said he learned more about DEI initiatives in a business setting.

“I enjoyed establishing and celebrating cultural heritage months and recognizing the many cultures of those who work here.”

“The honesty that A.Y. McDonald had about making the workplace a close-knit community. From day one I was welcomed in and felt a bond and connection with not only my boss but everyone on the team. It was just that, a team. Also, the passion for DEI work and how much they wanted me included in the process, I know that being in a workplace where DEI was valued was somewhere I would love to work,” Martinez said.

Martinez encouraged other students to consider an internship.

“Do it. Having been in different internship roles, it gave me the opportunity to see what I liked and what I didn’t. It gave me a glimpse of what my future could be like in the different roles that I was in. It also gives you the chance to find what you are truly passionate about working in. I know that I enjoy working in different areas but being in these internships made me realize what I hope to do with my future and who I was as an individual.”

Anna Brestrup, human resources representative at A.Y. McDonald, can relate to the interns at her company as she interned at the business, too.

“In my internship at A.Y., I was provided the freedom and comfort level to explore and try new things. I was also given the opportunity to network and visit many other company facilities. This experience has allowed me to see I belonged at A.Y. McDonald and understand that HR was the field for me.”

A.Y. McDonald has nine paid interns in the quality, accounting, human resources, IT, finance and production departments. Brestrup said the responsibilities for interns vary by position, department, business need and the strength/interest of the intern.

“The goal for the intern is to give them an experience so they can determine whether the culture and job aligns with their skills and characteristics,” Brestrup sai.

Brestrup said that businesses can learn and incorporate new ideas and concepts that interns bring to the table.

“Interns have the ability to look at challenges with a fresh set of eyes and often provide unique perspectives with new and innovative ideas. This is a great opportunity for the business to learn the interns’ values and how well they work together. Skills and knowledge can be taught but having an individual understand the unique complexities within a job is extremely valuable,” Brestrup said.

“Selecting, not just hiring co-workers is one of the most important roles in any business. Internships provide an invaluable opportunity for both A.Y. McDonald and our interns to better understand each other’s values, beliefs, and skill sets. This creates a platform to build a lasting and meaningful relationships,” Brestrup said.

Learning about small business

Jessen Weber, a junior at Loras, is doing a double major in marketing and media studies. His internship at RH Prints Co., a screen printing and event planning company helped him learn more about using Photoshop and social media apps.

He gained hands-on experience learning different platforms and working virtually with a remote team.

“I’ve learned a lot about marketing and how a small business runs,” Weber said.

Weber was surprised that it takes a lot of confidence and courage in the sales experience of the business.

“It definitely opened my eyes. Internships are valuable for students because they give you the hands-on experience of what a job looks like in your field of interest and could open doors to many new people and job skills,” Weber said.

“All Loras students are encouraged to seek at least one internship during their time at Loras. Some academic programs require an internship for the major. Seventy-two percent of our graduates have participated in one or more internship, clinical, or practicum. Most frequently, we have students from the fields of social work, psychology, business administration, marketing, finance, computer science, accounting, criminal justice, engineering, analytics and kinesiology,” said Jennie Weber, Academic Internship Coordinator at Loras.

To be considered for an internship, students must meet minimum requirements for GPA and accumulated credits in order to participate in a credited internship. While students can apply to a business or organization for any internship, in order to earn credit for the experience, they must have a conversation with either their Loras academic adviser or with Weber then be accepted into the internship course.

Loras College has strong partnerships with many businesses and organizations including Dubuque County, the City of Dubuque, A.Y. McDonald, Cottingham and Butler, Kunkel and Associates, Dubuque Community YMCA/YWCA Crisis Services, Opening Doors, Resources Unite, Grand River Medical, UnityPoint and MercyOne Hospitals, St. Mark Youth Enrichment, Presentation Lantern Center, John Deere and the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque that are consistently supervising student interns.

Some internships especially in the fields of accounting, engineering and finance could be posted up to a year prior to the internship starting. “Most students seek to secure an internship two to three months before the start of the next semester,” Weber said. The number of students per semester varies, Weber said the busiest semester is spring followed by fall, summer and the January term. “For the fall and spring semesters, we may have 50-70 students working in internships that are not required for their major.”

Most internships in the STEM fields are paid and in the last five years Loras has seen a significant increase in the number of paid internships in other fields. “Internships allow students to connect the dots between their academic classroom learning to their proposed professional field. We have fabulous faculty and staff at Loras College and being able to be on-site and “do” the work supplements the learning in an incredibly robust manner. Internships provide the opportunity for students to practice their soft skills, build connections and explore their vocational calling,” Weber said.

Finding interns

At Origin Design Co, a full-service design firm, human resources manager Troy Wright said that the business hires three to six paid interns per year in their architectural, field services, land survey and engineering departments. Most interns come to the firm through career fairs, online postings and employee referrals.

Interns perform engineering assignments, assist in the generation of engineering documents, use Autodesk Civil 3D software to assist with drawings and exhibits, assist with agency research and permit applications, gather field data and perform on-site construction observation tasks.

“Internships are of value at Origin Design as students can apply new classroom principles to the professional environment and gives us the ability to connect with young professionals. Internships allows the student to test-drive a career and for us to build talent pipelines and help close the skills gap for new grads. We also find that internships enhance the leadership skills of our employees who oversee interns,” Wright said.

“In today’s market, it’s extremely important for companies to have an internship program in place. This allows companies the opportunity to preview students who will be entering their industries in the near future, giving the company the inside-track on top talent. Interns have the ability to bring immediate value to companies by increasing productivity, applying the latest techniques and technology and improving the overall work environment.”