CLA Leads the Way with Career Micro-Experiences
As a sophomore in the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts (CLA), Sahra Jilaow is already thinking about law school after graduation. She is majoring in Sociology of Law, Criminology, and Justice with a double major in African and African American Studies, but she doesn’t have much career experience in the criminal justice system.
Thanks to CLA’s new Get Ready program, Jilaow recently gained hands-on experience with Agape Movement Co, a nonprofit organization based out of George Floyd Square in South Minneapolis. Agape is dedicated to addressing systemic inequities and “offer(ing) ideas to reform the criminal justice system.”
In January, Jilaow joined a team of four other CLA students to complete a one-week project over winter break. Together, students helped organize a series of Black History Month events at Agape focused on education, advocacy, and empowerment. Students also learned about the history and contributions of Black leadership and had the opportunity to meet city council members at Minneapolis City Hall.
“A lot of our conversations were about Black success and what the Black community can strive for looking forward,” Jilaow said. “It was really cool to be on a team of powerful Black women. My team members were from similar majors, including Political Science and Sociology. We all want to go to law school.”
Get Ready Program
Jilaow is one of 120 CLA students, including 50 students on spring break this week, who have participated in a Get Ready project since it began as a pilot in May 2022. The pilot, funded in part through a generous gift from Target Corporation, offers college students one-week micro-experiences with local employers during school breaks, while also providing student scholarships to off-set financial barriers.
The Get Ready program targets first generation, limited income, and BIPOC students early in their academic experience, giving them real-world work experience in an industry that interests them. These experiential learning opportunities, which are hosted at a range of employer sites including local non-profits like Neighborhood House, to corporate settings like Penske Corporation and Polaris Inc., help students become competitive applicants for future paid internships or jobs.
“Unless you’re being intentional, internships can actually reproduce the economic and equity gap,” said Char Myers, Internship Coordinator in CLA Career Services. “We know that internships are often a critical component to launching a career, but a lot of students are shut out from internships because there are limited paid opportunities. Career experiences during sophomore year help students become more competitive.”
Through the Get Ready program, CLA students like Jilaow gain exposure to professional networks and career paths they might not have known about before. And, the flexible time commitment of a one-week experience makes the program more accessible to students who have to hold down paid jobs or juggle family commitments.
“The feedback from both students and employers is overwhelmingly positive,” said Myers. “Students are having the unique opportunity to ‘try-on’ a career over winter or spring break, and employers have the benefit of hosting a team of undergraduate students to work on a wide range of projects.”
Early Career Exposure Prepares Students For Graduation
Early career micro-experiences and internships are already making a difference for CLA students. Myers recently heard from Halimo Ali Hashi, a current CLA senior who, as a sophomore, received support from CLA Career Services to find a paid internship related to her interest in healthcare. After working as a Critical Care Research intern at Regions Hospital for a year, she applied to Physician Assistant (PA) school and was accepted into the program at St. Catherine University where she will begin studying in the fall.
“Halimo’s journey to PA school is a great illustration of the value of an early internship,” said Myers. “We know that these high-impact experiences can make a huge difference in the trajectory of a student’s career, and we know that many students need to be paid in order to do them.”
As for Jilaow, she is still thinking about law school. She credits her experience completing the Get Ready program with Agape as confirming her desire to pursue advocacy in her professional life and become more involved in the criminal justice system. It “was one step into the direction I knew I wanted to go into, but I wouldn't have known if I didn't try it,” she said.