March 2017

St. Kate student LaVina Branscomb

When applying for their first jobs out of college, graduates are often expected to have work experience as well as academic experience. This can be hard for students who need to support themselves financially while in college. Frequently internships are unpaid and therefore become a low priority — putting these students at a disadvantage when applying for jobs.

Financially supporting students during internships can make all the difference. By paying students interning through their Career Ready programs, St. Catherine University is opening the door to the internship experience to more students. “As a lower income student this program makes all the difference in my résumé building. I cannot afford to work for free,” one student at St. Kate’s said. “A lot of lower-income students go through their undergrad internship-free because they can’t afford the financial hit — leaving them disadvantaged post-graduation.”

St. Kate students Courtney Kostreba and Claire Thompson

Expectations on graduates have changed in recent years and D’Ann Urbaniak Lesch, the director of St. Kate’s Center for Community Work and Learning, sees it in St Kate’s students. “Our students know and have heard they need experience on their résumés. It’s not enough to have a degree anymore,” Urbaniak Lesch said. “They need to be able to show they have transferable skills.”

The university’s Career Ready internships are community-based internships for juniors and seniors with financial need. St. Kate’s pays the students for their work at community partner organizations and supports their learning experience through workshops and reflections. The program is supported in part by a grant from the Grant Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation. Their approach to internships is designed around equity — the financial aid office works with the Center for Community Work and Learning to select students who have a gap in their financial aid package and in turn the center works with students to connect them with community partners. One semester’s data of students participating in Career Ready showed that 62 percent identified as students of color, 68 percent were Pell grant recipients, and 47 percent identified as first generation college students.

St. Kate student Yayao Xiong with supervisor Lily Lamb

Career Ready internships are housed in the Center for Community Work and Learning, which focuses on community engagement through service-learning. “Having Career Ready has not only benefited our students, but also our community relations and community partners,” said Urbaniak Lesch. “If we have service-learning at a community partner site and it’s going well, we can now go back to that partner and invite them to apply for a paid intern.”

Many of the interns receive course credit, income, career workshops, facilitated reflection and work experience at the same time. These common elements of undergraduate education are often separate — at St. Kate’s they’re all part of the Career Ready Internships. “This structure recognizes the connection between and combined value of their curricular and co-curricular experiences,” explained Urbaniak Lesch. “It acknowledges the reality that many of our students need ongoing paid work in order to be in college and eventually graduate. When an internship experience can be a part of that reality in ways that don't pull them in multiple directions to the detriment of their undergraduate education, it is a ‘win’ for everyone.”

By Tom Lancaster