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Not Your Average Summer Job

Students Explore Career Options through Internships, Jobs

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Sophomore chemistry major Kristie Michta conducted experiments during her summer co-op job at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center.

By Jill Gambon

As classes ramp up and students settle into the rhythm of the fall semester, many have returned to campus with new skills and fresh perspective developed at professional internships, co-op positions and jobs held over summer break.

Traditional college student summer jobs such as lifeguards and camp counselors have given way to professional positions that offer a taste of future careers, provide access to business contacts and help polish in-demand skills. Across all majors, students had the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in classes while exploring career options. They conducted research and developed social media plans. They donned hard hats for civil engineering jobs and suits for legislative internships. Some found opportunities in campus labs while others traveled to Washington, D.C. and as far as Australia.
“I got so much out of the experience,” says Kristie Michta, a sophomore chemistry major who had a summer co-op job at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center. “Besides the experience of working in a professional lab, I learned how to set up and design my own experiments. I also learned how to collaborate with other people and I developed my oral presentation skills.”

Michta landed the co-op position through the University’s Honors Program, in which she is enrolled. In addition to the work skills, she feels the experience will help her when it comes time to apply to graduate school.

“I never expected to get that kind of experience after my freshman year,” she says.

Research shows that co-op jobs and internships play a key role in helping students prepare for the workforce. A recent survey by found that nearly 70 percent of companies with 100 or more employees offered full-time jobs to their student interns. 

“We see a positive correlation between internships and co-op experiences and student success in receiving job offers upon graduation. Internships and co-ops in essence are long-term interviews,” says Martina Witts, assistant director of cooperative education in the University’s Career Services and Cooperative Education Center.  “Using internships and co-ops as a pipeline for entry-level hires helps employers have access to qualified talent when jobs become available.”

Applying Classroom Learning to the Work World

Manning School of Business senior Kimberly Howell got to apply her knowledge of marketing and the college demographic during her co-op job at the career website Monster Worldwide where she worked with one of the sales teams. Howell and the other student interns and co-ops were also assigned a special project: Come up with ideas for expanding Monster’s reach among college-age job seekers.
“We had to present our plans to the entire marketing department. People were excited about our ideas,” says Howell.

Alex Johnson, who is also a Manning School senior, returned to C.H. Robinson, an $11.4 billion logistics company for his second co-op assignment in sales. For Johnson, who had previously held jobs at a YMCA, a gym and in a warehouse, the co-op position was his first professional experience. He learned about the demands of the workplace while developing skills he will need.
“I gained the ability to negotiate and to speak to customers in a professional manner. You can’t teach that in a classroom,” he says. “I also brought the things I learned back to campus with me. The co-op job teaches you discipline and how to present ideas to other people.”

Plastics engineering junior J.P. Sears never made it to the beach this summer, but he did get engineering experience through his full-time co-op position at Omni Components Corp., a Hudson, N.H. contract manufacturer. Sears, like other students, says exposure to different industries and career paths as an undergraduate helps put long-term goals into focus.

“It was my first nine-to-five job and it was great getting to know how a business works,” says Sears. “I feel like I’m one step closer to knowing what I want career-wise.”

Junior Arielle Whooley, who is pursuing a degree in atmospheric science, affirmed her career goal after wrapping up an internship with the Fox 25 weather team: She wants to be an on-air meteorologist.

“I loved it there. I loved the atmosphere and the people. I gained a lot of confidence and my forecasting skills got better as a result of the internship. I can’t wait to be back in a TV studio,” she says.

Whooley now counts Fox 25 meteorologists and UMass alumnae Sarah Wroblewski and Shiri Spears as mentors after working with them on the weather broadcasts. 

“I got a lot of professional guidance and great practical advice,” Whooley says. “We talked about everything from how to have a life while you are working to selecting courses. I couldn’t ask for better mentors.”