210909ind interns

Kim Stack, director of the Center for Career and Experiential Education at the University of Rhode Island, right, talks to senior Erin Torgersen about her summer internship at an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Kentucky.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Erin Torgersen saw up close some of the intricate business decisions it takes for Amazon to run a fulfillment shipping center.

The senior at the University of Rhode Island learned many of the operational details that businesses face – especially those as large as Amazon – and that are seldom discovered just in textbooks or from professors.

“I was able to grow professionally and personally by making new connections with professionals who can teach me in ways I can’t learn in the classroom,” she said about her internship — one of thousands — obtained through the URI Center for Career and Experiential Education.

Paige Vogel is another student getting that advantage.

“Internships are also a great way to really decide what you want to do with your career. Sometimes you may find your passion in careers you may not have immediately anticipated, or sometimes you will learn that a career you expected to enjoy is not the right fit for you before it is too late,” she told The Independent.

Kim Stack, center director, aims to help each of her internship prospects find the job that helps them define their career path.

“So many students don’t have professional experience so this is that opportunity to get it,” said Stack who is ramping up matches between students and company partners as the school year kicks off this week.

Helping Companies, Too

It comes also at a time that companies are looking for help of all kinds as a labor shortage continues to infiltrate businesses.

The now-ended extra federal unemployment compensation, following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, helped to pay many workers more income than they would have earned at a job.

“I think there are many students who are hungry to help the businesses,” Stack said about students willing to work.

Stack said that the lessening of COVID restrictions along with more companies moving back into offices – as well as those gripped by labor shortages – are offering more potential placements this semester.

The onset of COVID-19 left faculty and administrators at many schools nationwide unable to get students out from behind a screen, much less out of the classroom, and that posed some challenges, not just in offering global education opportunities, it said.

After COVID emerged in the spring of 2020, decreased opportunities came as the pandemic and restrictions were curbing business operations across industry sectors, according to various reports on the pandemic’s effects on internships.

The director said that her office helps each year about 6,600 students who receive credit, but often many return without receiving credit to businesses and that often nearly doubles the number of placements from her office.

This pathway also helps businesses get tryouts of potential employees and spot those whose work performance would be a match, she pointed out.

For example, one Rhode Island company partnered with URI professor of writing to help create draft bid proposals. The students who showed a strong acumen for that skill received special consideration for a potential job with the company, Stack said.

Her office places people not only into internships, but also full-time and part-time jobs as well as positions in which a student “shadows” someone to learn about the job and in arrangements for one-on-one mentoring in specific skill sets.

Stack also said that her office helps students of all abilities. Those with special needs are matched in learning situations with companies most able to assist them.

Value of Experiential Learning

The trend in education – particularly at private high schools and in high education – is experiential learning.

Students shadow professionals in a career field they’re interested in pursuing. Many schools — public and private — have some type of offering, mostly through internships for academic credit.

Joe Viele, executive director of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce has brought URI interns into his office. His predecessor, Elizabeth Berman, started as an intern before joining the staff full-time and later promoted to director.

“My team and I have also met with some interns that were trying to understand what a chamber of commerce is and what it does. What a dynamic and well prepared group, the experience was very rewarding for me. The attention to detail in the program is also very good,” Viele said.

He added, “The interns that I am familiar with had a very good work ethic. They were not just checking off the box. They wanted the experience and invested great effort.”

With potential opportunities returning, so, too, comes the matches of students to mentors, like Viele, through these work experiences.

It comes down, Stack said, to many hands helping those at the start of their careers.

“When you think about community, you think about helping others,” Stack said noting that interested businesses should contact her. “Where would we be without the mentors who have come in and out of our lives.”

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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