Article #2 - Internships, As Good as it Gets

                                                                                            by Susanne J. Grossman

Many things in life are better when they’re had in combination with side dishes, like a hamburger, fries and a soda, coffee with sugar and cream, or a salad with croutons and dressing.  Your education and an internship have a relationship of the same nature.  Each field of study, which leads to a degree, has a unique vocabulary that encompasses the concepts and skills that will be used on a job within the field.  Good grades and/or a great GPA do show that a student has mastered the many ideas and vocabulary required to succeed in a particular major field of study. While it is absolutely necessary to master these concepts and skills in the classroom; what’s lacking is the additional “side dish” component of experience demonstrating the practical application, in a professional work setting, of those learned concepts and skills, like a hamburger without the French fries, coffee without the whipped cream, or salad without the dressing

Having just a great GPA is no longer enough. In an increasingly competitive employment situation and especially in a depressed economy an internship is invaluable for a student to have. It is critical to grasp that great grades and internship experience(s) stand out on your resume and make you an outstanding candidate as a prospective employee; however, internship experience(s) without great grades is not as favorably looked upon.  If we consider your education as the foundation for the rest of your life, then an internship might be considered the beginning of the building upon that foundation.  An internship can be inspiring and even life changing.  It may lead to a job, even your dream job.

If a place of business offers an internship that does not have to be done for credit, then anyone can do it at any time.  When an internship is offered, but requires that it be done for credit then a series of procedures must be implemented to execute a plan to do the internship.  Whether you find your internship first and then seek credit or you want to get credit and then seek an internship the process of finding an internship will work for you.  Some students find out about internships, register at Queensborough Community College for a Cooperative Education class, and then find an internship.  Others may find an internship and then discover the company offering the internship requires that it be done for college credit.  In either case the process is most effectively and efficiently done the semester before you intend to do the internship.  Most of the individual departments have their own individual Cooperative Education class (Co-op class.)  In each department there is a Faculty Cooperative Education Coordinator who oversees the course and the students’ performance and then gives the final grade.

The Cooperative Education class has to be related to the field of the internship.  For example, an internship in Marketing would be related to the Business Department. An internship in Mechanical Engineering would have a Co-op class in that department. An internship with the New York City Police Department would be in the Criminal Justice major in the Social Sciences Department. Since we’re a Liberal Arts College, the Cooperative Education class in the Social Sciences Department is the “general” internship class that most internships might fall into. Even though the Cooperative Education class must be related to your field of major the credits count as electives.

The Cooperative Education class is similar to all other classes at Queensborough Community College in a few ways and very different in a few others and one major way.  One way they are the same is that both types of classes have to be registered for by using a course code during registration time the semester prior to the one in which you want to do the internship, and they both have requirements that have to be fulfilled in order to earn the credits toward your degree.  Generally speaking, the course codes for classes are found on CUNYFirst.  A difference between a regular class and a Co-op class is the Co-op class’ code is a closed class until the Faculty Co-op Coordinator registers you for the course.  The reason for this is, because the Co-op class is an out of the classroom experience.  Someone on campus must be responsible for making sure you fulfill your requirements, just like any class where attendance is checked, but because the student is off campus and out of sight attendance is in the form of an official communication between the Faculty Co-op Coordinator and a site supervisor at the internship site.  In addition, there are other required criteria that must be met in order to register for the Co-op class, which vary from department to department, so, you should check the catalog on the website [LINK] for the specific details in the specific department.   There is a minimum GPA ranging at Queensborough from 2.0 – 3.0 depending on the department, a minimum number of credits overall which usually puts you in your second year, and sometimes a minimum number of prerequisite credits in the department in order to qualify to register for this unique class. 

This makes sense for various reasons:  By the time you’re in your second year you will have taken classes, which not only make you familiar in the basics of a subject matter, but a desirable intern with fundamental knowledge and some required skills.  These facts enhance your ability to represent the college as an institution from which the employer would consider using interns in the future.  There are a specific number of hours, which you must devote to the internship, just as you must show up for class a specific number of hours to earn the credits  in classes toward your Associate Degree.  Assignments might be given by the Faculty Cooperative Education Coordinator and/or the supervisor at the business.  You must complete all of the assignments.  One of the vast differences between a regular course at Queensborough Community College and a Cooperative Education course at Queensborough is that the Cooperative Education class is an “out of the classroom” experience.  The student goes to the place of business off campus instead of a classroom to complete the required hours.  In all classes the student is completely responsible for their performance, attendance, and must complete the assigned hours and assignments in order to earn the academic credits.

Here at Queensborough you can earn up to a maximum of six (6) credits in internships toward your Associate Degree.  This can be two (2) classes of three (3) credits each internship in two (2) semesters or the unique six (6) credits in one semester Social Science Department Cooperative Education class.  Very often, if not always,, the internship credits will be related to your major field of study.  However, a Cooperative Education class will never take the place of required courses. They don’t count toward the required courses in the major field of study.  Internship classes’ count as electives and toward the total number of overall credits required to earn an Associate Degree.  If you have already taken all of your elective courses, provided you meet the requirements for registering for the Co-op class, you can still do a credited internship(s).  You will simply graduate with more credits than required for the Associate Degree. 

     If you are a full time student you can do a part-time internship, not more than 20 hours a week.  If you’re a part-time student you can do a full-time internship, not more than 40 hours a week.  When full-time (between 12-18 credits) you don’t have to pay extra for the Co-op credits. They will be covered by your tuition. If, however, you’re taking less than 12, or more than 18 credits, or doing a summer internship then you’ll have to pay for the credits for doing the internship. Financial aid doesn’t cover tuition for summer classes.  After leaving Queensborough Community College you can do credit bearing internships at your four year college toward your Bachelor Degree, but you have to follow that college’s guidelines and regulations.

     It is also important to understand the following guidelines.  According to the Federal Government’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) six criteria have been established to define what constitutes an unpaid internship:

  1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction;
  2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees;
  3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
  6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training. 

If these factors are met then the worker is a ‘trainee,’ an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the FLSA’s minimum wage, overtime and unemployment provisions do not apply to the worker.

     Internship opportunities are listed in various ways and places.  Here at Queensborough Community College the Office of Career Services, located in the Library Building Room 429 provides you with 24/7 access to all of the internship opportunities companies have sent to us.  They are available to you on our webpage. You can set up an account and have access whenever you like to explore a large number of internships in all of our majors.  In addition, as the Internship Coordinator in the office I send out weekly TigerMails with the “New” opportunities in the Department of Student Activities weekly “Schedule of Events and Announcements.” There are a vast number of available internships. The internships that come up will contain an explanation of the internship, the requirements, how to apply, whether it has to be done for credit, etc.  I also send the internship opportunities out to the Faculty Cooperative Education Coordinators and they may in turn send it to their colleagues.  You can speak with the Co-op Coordinator or may then hear an announcement in class of an open internship opportunity.

            In the fall, the Office of Career Services provides Queensborough Community College students with the very unique and useful opportunity of attending an on campus Internship Forum.  The Internship Forum takes place here on campus with a large number of companies seeking interns in a broad range of areas.  Employers attend hoping to recruit from our ready, willing and able students who attend the Forum.  Faculty Cooperative Education Coordinators also attend and you have the opportunity not only to meet with them face-to-face but to have them answer your individual questions.  The Forum is an exciting one stop opportunity for getting an internship and learning about how to get credit for doing one.  In addition, in this increasingly impersonal online oriented environment of applying for jobs/internships the Internship Forum serves to give you important face-to-face opportunities with employers who can answer your specific questions about jobs/internships available in the real employment market.

     One story, that I especially like telling, is about a young Queensborough Community College student who had her degree in Architecture from her native country in South America.  She was attending Queensborough to obtain American credentials and certifications.  She came to me for help with her resume.  A short time before she came to see me an alumni of Queensborough had made contact with me.    He had discovered his love of Mechanical Engineering here at Queensborough and then went on to City Tech to finish his Bachelor Degree and now had his dream job at an Architecture firm.  He was hoping to recruit possible interns for the Architectural firm he worked for.  I asked if she was interested in applying for an internship with his company and if she had a portfolio of her work from her past employment.  She said she did to both questions.  I submitted her resume to the alumnus of the Architectural firm where she then got an interview.  She showed them her portfolio of work during the interview, which resulted in her obtaining a paid-credit-bearing internship.  The paid internship developed into the Architectural company sponsoring her for her American citizenship.  She became an American citizen and they then gave her a full-time position!  Regarding internships, this is as good as it gets.