Benefits and Frustrations Found at Internships

By Esperanza Juarez

Every member of the Cal Poly community has likely heard the
university’s motto, “learn by doing,” but the philosophy takes on a
very literal meaning for students who are required to complete an
internship prior to graduating.

While all students deal with the weekly stressors of completing
reading assignments, taking tests and finishing their homework,
there are some departments that tack on an additional requirement
in the form of an internship. From Management and Human Resources
to Communication, there are various departments campus-wide that
believe students have a lot to gain by carrying out a predetermined
set of hours as an intern.

“Internships are a most valuable tool for deciding whether a
specific career is worth pursuing,” said John Maitino, professor of
English and coordinator of English education. “You are there, you
see others at work, and you begin to imagine being a part of that

In a society where the general consensus is “there are never
enough hours in the day,” and people often multitask to squeeze in
as much as possible into every waking hour, it makes sense for
students to step out beyond the classroom and put themselves in a
professional setting where competition reigns. However, for some
students finding a good internship where useful information is
available is often difficult to attain.

“My search was kind of hard,” said Samantha Havard, a
fourth-year public relations student. “I was really stressed about
finding one. I needed a paying internship because of my financial
situation and I also needed a convenient one because I took pretty
heavy course loads to graduate on time. I had a really hard time
finding one [that was] local, in my area of interest and paying.
Plus, it’s like finding a job [because] it’s very time

For other students whose problem isn’t finding an internship,
but rather getting any useful training or new knowledge out of the
experience, being an intern can be a very frustrating

“Working at a big name company will not always be a positive
experience,” said a Cal Poly student who wishes to remain
anonymous. “For me it was negative because I felt like I was taken
advantage of. My duties did not really relate to anything in my
major. The explanation of the job was vague, but they also didn’t
tell me I’d be doing mediocre work like shredding and stapling
paper all day.”

One problem with internship programs that is unlikely to change
is that if an intern isn’t willing to do tasks seen as menial, the
employer can always find another student who is willing to take on
the less than glamorous duties. Completing an internship is part of
a student’s graduation requirement and there’s often an increased
sense of urgency to take what one can get.

Of course not all internship experiences are bad ones. In an
ideal situation an internship will provide industry specific
knowledge that is often unavailable in the traditional classroom

“At first, I didn’t want to do it because your schedule is busy
enough without having to do outside stuff like that,” said Kristena
Nelson, a fourth-year English education student. “[However], the
actual experience was really good and I ended up loving it. That
was my favorite thing I did last quarter because you know going to
school you learn about classroom techniques and pedagogies, but
it’s not the same as being in the classroom.”

While some departments that require internship completion as
part of their curriculum place students into their internships,
there are others that require students to locate an internship on
their own. In this case, there are several sources such as online
databases and the Cal Poly Career Center that can assist students
in their conscientious search.

“It is very important for students to read internship
descriptions carefully and to ask questions about the day-to-day
responsibilities of the internship during the interview process,”
said Seth Bernstein, career counselor and employer relations
coordinator. “This will help avoid the disappointment of having
responsibilities that don’t provide a valuable experience.”

Internship related services provided by the Career Center range
from resume advising to conducting mock interviews. Another tool
provided by the Career Center is BroncoConnection, which is an
online job board made accessible to students.

“College is a great time to explore options and enjoy new
experiences, and considering an internship in another part of the
state or country might lead to a rewarding experience and open up
new professional avenues,” said Bernstein.

Although it’s not unheard of to land a paid internship, students
may notice that several companies offer unpaid internship
positions. The lack of incoming cash flow might be a deterrent for
some, but it’s important for potential internship candidates to
weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the experience.

Esperanza Juarez can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at (909) 869-3747.

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