InternU offers students workplace experiences on campus

InternU students at Orange Umbrella discuss the variety of client projects they are working on that day, including communications plans and social media marketing for small businesses in South Florida and beyond. Photos: Jenny Hudak/University of Miami
By Janette Neuwahl Tannen

InternU students at Orange Umbrella discuss the variety of client projects they are working on that day, including communications plans and social media marketing for small businesses in South Florida and beyond. Photos: Jenny Hudak/University of Miami

InternU offers students workplace experiences on campus

By Janette Neuwahl Tannen
Organized by three University departments, the program presents paid internships to students on the Coral Gables Campus.

When Reece Haire spent part of her summer looking for a work-study job on campus, she never expected to find an opportunity that would align so well with her career goals.

But when Haire found a paid internship at the University of Miami’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement (CCE), she was able to utilize skills learned from her psychology and community psychology coursework, along with her interest in communications, to help elevate the campus office’s work. Although she had held other jobs in the past, Haire said the internship was different.

“It was a very supportive environment where I was treated as an equal and my supervisor cared about my professional success,” said Haire, who graduated recently. “My colleagues wanted me to have opportunities that I could talk about in the future, and I did.”

Reece Haire headshot
Reece Haire

Not only did Haire manage the social media accounts for CCE, creating posts and revising them with her supervisors, she also tracked the office’s web analytics and drafted speeches and news releases. Now that she is applying for communications jobs in the nonprofit sector, Haire said the experience was critical because it gave her a list of accomplishments to describe to potential employers.

Haire was one of the first few students to be a part of InternU, a new University-wide program led by the Toppel Career Center, Office of Student Employment, and the office of Talent and Organizational Development, to help students find paid internships in University offices. As part of the program, students set goals with their supervisors, as well as gain constructive feedback and regular mentoring, which many off-campus internship programs do to prepare students for the workplace.

“Right now, 50 percent of our students do internships and that’s not enough,” said Christian Garcia, associate dean and executive director of Toppel. “So, for those students who couldn’t do an off-campus internship because they are tethered to campus, now there are all these opportunities to gain an internship experience.”

While InternU was piloted in three University offices last year, this fall is its official launch and 13 campus departments are participating, including the University’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Community Outreach, Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA), Orange Umbrella, Talent and Organizational Development within Human Resources, and ’Canes Central.

Kennedy Robinson, who serves as assistant director of MSA, said her office has six interns this semester who have been tremendously helpful so far. Although the office typically hires student employees, the InternU program has encouraged her to explore every student’s career ambitions. These conversations led Robinson to outline specific roles for the interns, based on their experience or talent.

Interns Katie Schwerdt and Vanessa Bonilla facilitate icebreaker exercises during the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs' weekly staff meeting.
Interns Katie Schwerdt and Vanessa Bonilla facilitate icebreaker exercises during the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs' weekly staff meeting.

“Any area where our office touches—marketing, diversity and inclusion training, staff development, or video production, for example—if it’s an area that a student wants future growth in, we work with them to craft an experience that coincides with our office’s and their personal endeavors,” Robinson said. “And since we crafted their roles based on their desired outcomes, it makes the interns a little more eager or invested in their roles here.”

Garcia hopes that with time, more offices will offer internships on campus. Any locations that offer paid positions for students are eligible. However, there are a few caveats: student interns should not be limited to clerical or administrative work, supervisors must be willing to mentor students and to find tasks that build upon a student’s abilities, and supervisors must offer feedback to students on their performance, said Carly Smith, Toppel’s director of career education. Ideally, InternU students should be acquiring skills in key career competencies like teamwork, critical thinking, intercultural communication, diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as leadership, Garcia added.

“We believe it is everybody’s responsibility on this campus to look out for the best interests of our students, especially when it comes to their careers,” Garcia said. “So, when University offices are hiring students, if they can provide more direction and coaching, it could have a major impact on that student’s life. This is about giving them skills to be competitive and hit the ground running in a job.”

For Haire, the internship at CCE helped her to learn enough about the world of communications so that this past summer she began working with several Palm Beach dance studios as their communications and programs manager. She is also now working part time for a nonprofit called Monjae Collective, which raises funds for social entrepreneurship in Africa, as their engagement and operations manager. And while her internship was more challenging than Haire’s previous on-campus jobs, she said it was well worth her time.

“It’s not like working in the study rooms at the dorms—you can’t just do your own homework. You have to do work and it will be challenging, but you’ll learn a lot,” she said. “And it is a much greater opportunity, both professionally and personally.”

If you or your department is interested in being a part of the InternU program, contact Kelshay Toomer, assistant director of career services at the Toppel Career Center.