Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
The University of Maryland University College (UMUC) is a four-year university that predominantly serves nontraditional students taking classes online. Because of this—coupled with the value employers place on work experience in the candidates they hire—the university has developed InternPLUS, a program to help UMUC students gain valuable experiential education experience despite the scheduling challenges they may face.
“Many of our 80,000-plus students are pursuing their degrees to switch careers, and as we all know, they need relevant experience to be competitive in the job market,” says Kristin Schrader, associate director of InternPLUS and military career programs at UMUC.
“Our solution has been to be very open-minded in how we define what falls into this program, so I regularly promote a wide variety of opportunities as ways that students can get ‘resume-able’ experience since that's ultimately the goal.”
Schrader explains that many UMUC students are already working a full-time job and/or are unable to relocate for a traditional summer internship. A large part of her role is working with employers to identify nontraditional ways that these students can gain relevant experience.
She says that examples of these include:
- Virtual internships;
- Part-time opportunities;
- Internships that are available at times other than the summer on a full- or part-time basis;
- Project-based internships; and more.
“We have developed a variety of partnerships with different organizations that provide nontraditional types of opportunities,” Schrader says. “We also work with our existing and new employer partners to heavily promote specific opportunities that they have available that align with our academic programs.”
Schrader faces two primary challenges:
- Identifying nontraditional opportunities that fit into students’ busy schedules so that they can gain relevant experience.
- Getting employers to think creatively about the timing of these experiences, e.g., they don't all have to be in the summer, full time, during day-time hours.
“Given our proximity to Washington, D.C., and that about half of our students live in the greater D.C. area, most of our students are interested in federal jobs and/or opportunities with local federal contractors,” Schrader says. “These tend to be the organizations and types of opportunities that we promote most heavily.”
Launched in February 2016, the InternPLUS is still a relatively new initiative. Schrader notes that the InternPLUS program tracks success metrics, including the numbers of students and alumni hired, clicks on InternPLUS-related resources in UMUC’s career portal, and attendees at InternPLUS-related webinars.
The data show positive response to the program.
“For example, our number of clicks on InternPLUS resources is on track to triple this fiscal year, which ends June 30,” Schrader says. “We also had 192 attendees at a career transitioning webinar this January, the most for any of the 20 webinars we've conducted this year. It featured a lot of material about gaining experience that is part of the InternPLUS program.”