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An Out of Classroom Experience

USC College students put academics to work

By Kaitlin Solimine
July 2004

It’s not your typical summer job.

On a sweltering July day, USC College international relations major Rema Christy battles the crowded streets of Tokyo as she leaves her internship at an international tax and accounting firm and fights her way to the subway.

“I am not very experienced in the tax and accounting system in the U.S., let alone that of Japan,” she says. “Needless to say, I was a bit out of my element.”

While working in a wide variety of summer and school year internships, USC College students are learning more about themselves, how their studies apply to “real world” experiences and how their career goals match their academic pursuits.

“Internships give undergraduate students a glimpse of the components necessary for career success,” says Eileen Kohan, associate dean and executive director of USC’s career planning and placement center.

And what is unique about USC College, says Kohan, is that undergraduate students are typically participating in two to three internships during their four years at USC.

The prevalence of the internship experience among USC undergrads certainly points towards a growing national trend. Internships have become an increasingly important aspect of a student’s resume because of the emphasis employers now place on work experience. USC is certainly providing access for its students to gain this experience; the university’s career planning and placement center places more than 6,000 students in internships each year and nearly 60 percent of students who have a job lined up by graduation had done an internship during their undergraduate career.

Internship opportunities for USC students vary from working in a typical office environment, to a U.S. Embassy abroad, to a soap opera set. All internship placements are geared to complement the classroom experience and USC career advisors work hard to offer as many different and innovative options to students as there are academic possibilities.

“Rather than spending an entire academic career building towards a particular profession, internships offer liberal arts students a taste of what’s ahead without the commitment to that field that a professional degree would require,” says Kohan.

One particular internship program unique to USC is the USC Freeman Fellows Internship Program, which is funded by a grant from the Freeman Foundation and provides stipends to USC undergraduates to live and work in Asia for a summer. Placements for students range from a non-profit organization in Kuala Lumpur to a Fortune 500 company in Beijing, and in these environments, participants not only gain useful work experience, but also exposure to a foreign culture.

“The Freeman Fellow internship solidified my passion in a career that links the U.S. with the rest of the Asia Pacific region, and it gave me the confidence to put myself in new situations and adapt to new cultures,” says Freeman Fellow Connie Liu.

Liu, like many other students, came away from her internship with a sharper focus on her career. However, there’s even a benefit to not liking one’s internship placement. Kohan cites that one of the most beneficial aspects of an internship is when a student has the sense that the internship in which they participated is not a career they want to pursue.

Christy, who was a Freeman Fellow, knows of that realization first hand. After working in Tokyo, she learned that while she always thought she wanted to work abroad, she may rather work at an international company based in the United States. “The experience shut a door so to speak, but it’s still a positive thing because it helped to shape my life,” she says. “I benefited enormously from the experience since I think that realizing what I don’t want to do is as important as discovering what I do.”

In the end, most students feel that the practical experiences they gain from internships give them greater confidence in themselves and their ability to make the jump from ivory tower to steel skyscraper.

As one student, who speaks for many, says, “Despite being placed in a brand new work environment in which I was expected to deliver quality product in material I had never dealt with before, I succeeded — and did well.”