Santa Clara University

The Real World is Calling

Internships help SCU students grow personally and professionally

By Victoria Hendel De La O

Last June, senior Melissa Eckel was filled with nervous excitement as she stepped into The Gap headquarters in San Francisco. Like many of SCU’s undergraduate students, Eckel was embarking on an internship that she hoped would help her prepare for her future.

Eckel, who is a marketing major and a retail studies minor, spent the entire summer as a distribution analyst intern for Banana Republic (which is owned by The Gap). By the end of her internship, she was allocating inventory for men’s accessories in all Banana Republic stores throughout the U.S. "I had to make sure that the right product got to the right store in the right quantity and by the right time," she says.

But Eckel found that she learned about more than just retail management. "They made me feel welcome and I discovered a lot about corporate culture and how the business world really works," she says. "I also found out that I might want to work in production rather than distribution," she says.

Eckel’s internship was a requirement for her Retail Studies minor. But students of all majors find that internships can be an important way of finding out what they want—or even more importantly, what they don’t want—to do with their lives.

"It’s a tough market," says Enzie Lagattuta, assistant director of experiential learning at SCU’s Career Center. "Students hope that internships will give them a competitive edge. But they also want to try things out to see if they’re a good fit."

Besides corporate internships, many students seek out public service and ministry opportunities to help them grow personally. As part of SCU’s DISCOVER Ministry Internship, senior Neil Ferron spent three months in Seattle, Wash. at the Orion Center, a drop-in center for homeless youth. "I had volunteered in Calcutta for three months, but I wanted to experience the challenges in my own culture," Ferron says. "I was raised in Seattle, so I wanted to rediscover my own hometown."

One of the goals of the DISCOVER program is to help students explore the idea of a "calling." With funds from the program, Ferron was paid what he would have been paid in a traditional internship so that he could volunteer as a youth counselor for the entire summer at the Orion Center. He worked closely with other counselors and staff as he dealt with teens and young adults that were struggling with drugs, violence, and mental illness.

"Working with homeless youth challenged every notion that I have of social justice and volunteerism. I realized that in the U.S. it’s not just about giving people food and clothing; it’s about creating a positive community," he says.

Ferron is an English major and hopes to become a writer. "I’d like to write about social issues and my experiences by focusing on creative nonfiction," he says.

It might be the combination of practical knowledge and self-discovery that makes internships so desirable. Lagattuta says that the popularity of internships has soared during the past 10 years. "Nationally, about one in five students choose to complete an internship now. Students increasingly feel that an internship should be a basic part of the college experience, and SCU’s students are no exception," he says.

Whether students are seeking corporate or non-profit experience, SCU’s Career Center is their first stop. The center offers students an online internship and job database, as well as extensive counseling and training services. "Our hope is that we can help students create a building block for good, solid, career development," says Lagattuta.

Beyond the Career Center, students work with individual departments and faculty members to find exciting internship opportunities. Students in SCU’s Leavey School of Business, for example, can take part in the Accelerated Cooperative Education (ACE) program, which helps them prepare for leadership roles. The program partners with business and community-based organizations and gives students the opportunity to work with business executives from Silicon Valley companies, such as Applied Materials and Lockheed Martin. These executives serve as mentors and models of leadership.

No matter what type of internship they pursue, most students agree that their experiences provide invaluable insights. "By being immersed in a field and surrounded by professionals, and by being removed from the academic world, an internship teaches you more than a class ever could," Ferron says.

If you are interested in hiring SCU students as interns for your organization, please contact Enzie Lagattuta at 408-554-4420 or by e-mail at elagattuta@scu.edu.

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