Many departments at Slippery Rock University require students to complete an internship as part of their graduation requirements, but often times they are unpaid, and the only compensation students receive is through academic credit and experience.
Getting hands-on experience is an important part of the curriculum for students in the psychology department run by department chairperson Dr. Jennifer Sanftner McGraw, who also serves as its internship coordinator.
Students that are trying to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology must complete the department’s Professional Competency Requirement which ranges from three to nine credits. The majority of students on this track choose to complete a six-credit Field Placement Internship and the accompanying three credit Senior Integration Seminar class.
“I think it’s something that students are very interested in and in the 13 years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve yet to have a bad experience with it,” McGraw said. “I’ve seen a lot of learning take place, a lot of professional growth, and really just growing up to some extent.”
McGraw can’t see a time in the future when an internship won’t be a graduation requirement, but should the program ever be disbanded, she believes that students would still take the initiative to sign up for one.
“I think a lot of our students would still sign up actually, because we get comments from students about how they wish they could do more,” McGraw said. “They want to get out there and see what it’s like to work in this field, and they come to this field a lot of times because they want to be of service, and they want to get out there and do it and see it.
The Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice is one of the departments at the university that doesn’t require its students to complete an internship in order to graduate. Students can either sign up for a six or nine hour internship totaling 240 and 360 hours of work, respectively, which will count as a free elective in the major.
Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Dr. Rebecca Ridener, serves as the internship coordinator for the department. She determines whether or not a student’s request to complete an internship meets the guidelines of the program, and oversees students as they complete their work.
“Taking a six credit internship takes the place of having to take two criminology electives,” Ridener said. “By doing an internship, a student can take up their entire elective credit block that’s required to graduate.”
Despite the fact that an internship isn’t a required part of the curriculum, Ridener believes that those students who have had the experience are more hirable to potential employers.
“We’ve had multiple internships result in employment whether it’s directly to that agency where they get hired,” Ridener said. “Or they’ve made a connection through that agency with another agency and they’re hired there.”
Even if students don’t get hired at the end of their internship, their boss can serve as a reference in the future, and having ‘real world’ experience can help a student can be beneficial on a resume. The possible benefit from taking an internship hasn’t resulted in many students taking advantage of the program. Proximity to campus is a contributing factor, as well as working to balance a job and an internship at the same time.
“I typically have maybe 12 interns in the summer and there are almost 300 criminology majors,” Ridener said.
Ridener has only known two internship sites to pay students, and with students typically completing their internships in the summer, it’s hard for many to juggle working and paying for the internship. The experience is worthwhile for students, but receiving compensation for their time isn’t something that she’s opposed to, Ridener said.
While the number of students that choose to complete internships is low, senior criminology and criminal justice major, Nick Holzapfel, 23, decided that the experience was worthwhile for both his academic and professional career.
Holzapfel interned with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office where he worked with the K-9 unit on drug searches and learned about the courtroom legal process. While he wasn’t compensated for the work that he did at his internship site, the experience he had and what he learned made up for it.
“The experience was unbeatable,” Holzapfel said. “Slippery Rock doesn’t require it, but they should. The experience is something that you’ll always have with you, and will help you later on when you look for a job.”
He would make the same choice to get an internship again because getting the opportunity to work with people in the field of his choice, and being in a professional atmosphere is a rewarding experience, according to Holzapfel.
As a student in the communication department, senior journalism major Carly Campbell, 21, is required to complete an internship to graduate. While most students typically complete one internship to fulfill the requirement, Campbell has done two, and is in the midst of her third with Three Rivers Paintball Park.
She has also been paid for the work she has done at each of her internships, which isn’t typical for students today. Even without payment, learning new skills was a valuable experience, according to Campbell.
“I’m a journalism major and I was doing public relations work all summer which opened my eyes to the PR world,” Campbell said.
Even without it being a requirement, she would still make the decision to find an internship to gain experience for her future.
“It looks good that you have experience besides what you’re doing in class,” Campbell said. “I feel like employers care more that you have hands on experience.”