With over 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 claiming unemployment in 2011, administrators and faculty at the University of South Dakota are doing all they can to create opportunities for their students.
One way this is being done is through the search and acquisition of internships.
Whether it is a summer internship at a business, a desk-job in the office of a U.S. senator or a one-year teaching residency, opportunities for work experience are abound for students at USD.
However, opportunities don’t come without some work.
Steve Ward, interim director at the USD Academic Advising Center, has made it it’s goal to provide students the tools necessary to get their name on the market.
Last fall, Ward hired USD’s first internship coordinator Carly Heard, who had previously worked in USD Student Life.
As internship coordinator for the university, Heard devotes much of her job to talking with businesses and potential internship locations, attempting to expand the market for potential interns.
Students not studying in schools who already have someone assigned to coordinate internships are encouraged to approach academic advisers for assistance.
“Forget what major a student graduates with, forget grade point average, forget all of that,” Ward said. “Whether or not a student graduates with experience in his or her job field is the most important thing a student can have on their resume.”
Ward and his staff of advisors, alongside Heard, keep their doors open to students in search of an internship, but expect students to come prepared. “We are here to match students with the best suitor employers,” Ward said. “We want to see students have a good idea of where they would like to get a position and in what area of the country.”
However, some schools at USD have faculty members devoted to broadening the internship market for students while assisting them in the process along the way.
Mary Pat Bierle has been the internship coordinator for the political science department for the past six years, and said her experience working on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. gave her a strong understanding of what political offices look for in interns
“I teach them the professional skills they need to secure a pre-professional internship,” Bierle said. “A student doesn’t walk in here and say I want an internship and I pull out a little three by five card and say here you go. What they are learning is basically how to go into that job market, and this is that bridge.
This spring, Bierle has five students working at the South Dakota state legislature along with a pair of students working as lobbyists for a law firm in Pierre, one student at Senator Tim Johnson’s office in Sioux Falls and another at Johnson’s office in Washington D.C
The political science department has placed a student in Washington D.C., who will work for the international information program over the summer.
“We are very successful in our placements. I don’t take personal credit, but I think it’s a sign you have to invest a lot of effort into getting it,” Bierle said. “That’s the way the political world is set up; you have to put yourself out there.”
Another department stressing the importance of out-of-classroom experiences is the USD School of Education.
Students hoping to graduate with a degree in education must complete a series of out-of-classroom experiences beginning their sophomore year with a one-week shadow program.
Students are then placed in a classroom for their final year; education adviser Sherrie Boss refers to these semester-long student teaching programs as residencies, which are scattered across the region.
“Nothing gives students a better understanding of teaching like watching the progress of their students over the course of a year,” Boss said. “Teachers gain a confidence in their learning that way, and are prepared to take over their own classroom.”
Boss has hubs in Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Iowa, Vermillion and Clark. Students eligible for yearlong residencies are scattered throughout classrooms in these hubs each year.
Ward believes the doors USD opens for its students should lead to better job placement out of college.
“We really want to begin a culture here at USD that has every student getting at least one, if not two, internships before they leave,” Ward said. “I think we are on our way there, but we have a way to go.”
For Bierle, nothing is more important for students than applying what they learn in a professional arena.
“Students who come into college and think that picking up a piece of paper will be sufficient are kidding themselves,” Bierle said. “What happens in the classroom is just the beginning you have to build a resume and build contacts. If a student graduates from USD with nothing but a degree and no one on their contacts list, that person is just not going to find a job.”
Reach reporter Austin Ashlock at Austin.Ashlock@usd.edu.