Changing Up the Internship Game
The College of Liberal Arts (CLA) at the University of Minnesota is teaming up with the GREATER MSP Partnership on an audacious goal: to make the Twin Cities a national hotspot for college internships and early talent development.
In April 2023, GREATER MSP launched an internship hub on its website to encourage employers to create more, and higher impact, internship opportunities in the Twin Cities region. The hub includes a free Internship Toolkit for Employers developed by CLA that includes best practices for starting or expanding a quality undergraduate internship program.
Across the state of Minnesota, over 200,000 students are enrolled in undergraduate institutions, which far exceeds the number of internship opportunities.
“There are not enough internships regionally for college students in Minnesota to have one internship each during their college education, let alone multiple,” said Judy Anderson, Director of Career Readiness in CLA. “Our Internship Toolkit provides all the pieces that an employer, large or small, would need to start offering one internship or a whole program.”
The benefits of college internships are well-documented. Students who complete a paid internship make an average of $3096 or more one year after graduation than those who do not. And, according to the National Association of College and Employers (NACE), “internships provided the best return on investment as a recruiting strategy [for employers], compared to career fairs, on-campus visits, on-campus panels, or other activities.”
Despite the advantages of internships for both college students and employers, two-thirds of students nationally do not participate in college internships. Barriers can include high competition for paid opportunities, steep requirements to qualify for positions, financial and family obligations, or a lack of information about how to identify and access opportunities. Unpaid internships, which are common even in for-profit companies, are often only an option for students who have the financial resources to volunteer their time.
Lack of paid internship opportunities also negatively impacts employers because it contributes to the labor shortage. In the Twin Cities metro, 50,000 job openings require less than one year of professional experience; despite this, there often remains a gap between students’ experience and employer expectations for entry-level candidates. Providing paid internships that give more undergraduates hands-on experience is “a vital strategy for employers to develop and recruit top talent,” says Anderson.
Dayana Lopez-Martinez, a CLA alumna and Talent Resources Generalist at the Minnesota Children’s Museum (MCM), describes how she utilizes an internship program to recruit a more diverse workforce.
“We are trying to make our intern pools reflective of the communities we want to see at the museum,” Lopez-Martinez said. She has made great strides in hiring interns from diverse backgrounds through strategies like intentional recruitment in colleges like CLA, where approximately 40 percent are students of color or Indigenous students.
“We also strongly believe that student interns should get paid, especially if they are producing work or projects for us,” said Lopez-Martinez. “All work is valuable.”
In June, NACE released a position statement advocating that all internships should be paid: “Providing more paid internships for underrepresented populations will lead to greater access, opportunity, and success for participating students; help fill critical roles throughout the employment landscape; and lead to needed diversification of the workforce.”
Lopez-Martinez explained how MCM is addressing potential student barriers to internship participation by providing public transportation passes and parking passes in downtown St. Paul, as well as being flexible about the times students work and offering hybrid options.
“We limit our internship to 10-12 hours per week so our interns can prioritize being a student first or engage in other commitments like a job or volunteer role,” she explained.
The Internship Toolkit for Employers contains strategies for building diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Twin Cities job market, drawing on CLA’s expertise as the largest and most diverse undergraduate college at the University of Minnesota.
Cassidy Titcomb, Interim Director of CLA Career Services, explains why the College of Liberal Arts is so invested in assisting not only students, but also their future employers.
"The mission of the University is to serve the state of Minnesota which continues to have a very tight labor market,” said Titcomb. “The ongoing collaboration between GREATER MSP, employers, and higher education will help our region grow its own talent and launch our students into successful post graduate opportunities. It’s a win-win.”
Internship Spotlight: Peter Nguyen
CLA student Peter Nguyen is participating in a paid internship at Ecolab this summer focused on data quality. He will enter his fourth year in CLA as a Computer Science major in the fall.
“I feel super lucky,” said Nguyen. “Ecolab is a big company and everyone I’ve met is willing to help out.”
Nguyen first learned about the company when he received an Ecolab Scholarship for Sustainability Internship during his first year in CLA. The scholarship provides students with the financial resources to participate in an otherwise unpaid internship related to environmental sustainability. Nguyen’s internship ended up being entirely online due to pandemic restrictions.
“I knew Ecolab’s name because of the scholarship so when I attended the career fair I went up to talk to them. That’s how I got my current internship with them,” explained Nguyen.
Nguyen credits his internships as helping him gain hand-on experience and better understand what he wants to do after graduation.
“Employers can make such an impact on a students’ life through internships,” he said. "Students have the opportunity to work towards achieving their personal goals and find out what they may or may not be passionate about in their future.”
Internship Spotlight: Ava Hupka
“When people hear I majored in sociology, they think I’m going straight to grad school,” said Ava Hupka, a college student who graduated from CLA in May.
Instead, Hupka is working this summer as a guest experience coordinator at Target Field where she will use skills that she developed during several college internships. Hupka pursued college internships in companies where she could have hands-on industry experience.
“During my internship I learned benefits administration wasn’t for me because I enjoy tuning into my extroverted personality in the workplace and that role wasn’t fitting for that,” she explained. “As I explore jobs after graduation, I know more about what kind of job I would actually like.”
In total, Hupka had three internships while a student in CLA. Her roles ranged from fully remote recruiter, where she had to cold call about 60 times a day, to managing HR for an event company.
“My friends who are sociology majors who have had internships have had better luck finding jobs,” she said.
Internship Spotlight: PuiYii Goh
“I always knew I wanted to go into healthcare, but I didn’t know which field,” said CLA alumna PuiYii Goh, who graduated in 2019 with a major in Psychology. “My internship helped me narrow down my interests.”
As an undergraduate student, Goh participated in a six month internship with ACR Homes as a direct care professional. There, she cared for geriatric patients in a group home setting and worked with an interdisciplinary team including nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, and medical students.
“The internship gave me experience with interdisciplinary collaboration, which is very important in the healthcare industry,” Goh explained. “It was a good space to experience a pre-job before going out into the real world.”
Today, Goh is in a clinical doctoral program in Audiology at the University of Minnesota where she works with hearing impaired people. She credits her ACR Homes internship with giving her skills to assist with patients with vision or hearing loss and those who are wheelchair bound.
“I have more empathy with patients because of that experience in home health care,” she said. “I better understand what barriers they experience in their daily lives and the amount of prep work just to attend an appointment.”