June 2002 [oberlin online]
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Steering Students toward Their Future
Director of Internships Helps Students Bulk Up Their Employment Skills
by Anne C. Paine

As an undergraduate German major at Carleton College, Kimberly Betz rarely set foot in the career center. The very idea of going there brought butterflies to her stomach.

So it's easy for Betz to identify with the nervous students who hesitantly venture into Oberlin's Office of Career Services.

Photo: Gabriel Graff '04

"They're dealing with the 'what-happens-next' question, and it's scary. All along so far, they've known what comes next. Maybe they had to think about which college, but they knew they'd go to college. Now they don't know what's next," said Betz.

As Oberlin's director of internships, Betz focuses daily on the key to making that transition to the unknown future easier and more effective. Internships, she said, let students try out different career fields, apply what they've learned to the "real world," make professional contacts, and gain essential work experience.

In her two years at Oberlin, Betz has established a strong program of winter-term internships. This past January, 54 students completed internships in an amazing variety of fields. Among the standouts:

- at Fox Movietone News, a history student fulfilled requests for historical film clips from the archives
- writing internships were completed at National Geographic Traveler and Reuters Health Information web site
- at Food and Wine Magazine, a student completed a photography internship
- student working at the Davidson Library Special Collections selected samples of music from wax-cylinder recordings and digitized them for use on a web site

"Most of the winter-term internships our students get are through alumni, which is wonderful because our alumni go out of their way to make sure students have a good experience. Our students are not just doing busywork," Betz said.

Many Oberlin students -roughly 50 percent, by Betz's estimate - also complete summer internships. Students have access to information about 20,000 internships nationwide through a specialized database that Oberlin helped to create with several other similar institutions.

At Oberlin, internships are more than jobs - they're structured academic experiences for which, starting this summer, students can earn academic credit. When an internship is offered, Betz first identifies a faculty sponsor. In conjunction with that sponsor, the student must establish learning goals, and at the conclusion of the internship, the student must prepare a final project.

Some fields have long expected entry-level job applicants to have related work experience, and that expectation is becoming more widespread, Betz said.

"Internship experience is so helpful in every field," Betz said. "The fact of the matter is that students everywhere are doing internships. If you come in with no experience on your resume, you're at an immediate disadvantage."

Another benefit of internships is that they can lead to permanent employment. "We have good students - they work hard and do a good job. Employers would rather go with someone they know," Betz said.

So how did that German major end up at Oberlin, helping students confidently tackle their futures?

She graduated, began working toward a Ph.D. in German, and realized that she enjoyed teaching undergraduates and being in an academic environment far more than she enjoyed doing research.

A year working at a computer business gave her time to regroup, and when a position in Carleton's career center opened, she applied and got the job.

At Carleton, she worked with employers and seniors. Her position at Oberlin brings her even closer to the things she enjoys, she said.

"I like working with internships because there's an academic focus to them. I get to work with faculty members and with students as students, rather than as job seekers," she said.

She tells her own employment tale to calm those worried students with whom she works now, but she doesn't want them to become too complacent.

"Internships help students sort out the career options available to them. They need to think about internships early - the earlier the better!" she said. ATS

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