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Internship Power: Real-World Experience and Career Success

CSU partnerships connect students with internships, streamlining the college-to-career pipeline.


The California State University is renowned for offering an affordable, high-quality education taught by world-class faculty members and accompanied by hands-on learning experiences. But the university understands that real-world work experience is integral for preparing job-ready graduates. To this end, the CSU not only encourages students to seek experiences outside the classroom, but builds partnerships with local employers to help students access relevant internships.

Learn about some of the ways CSU campuses are providing pathways to internship opportunities.

2022 U-GROW cohort with their families and certificates.

Growing the Research Workforce

Offered for the first time in 2022, the Undergraduates Gaining Research Opportunities for the Cancer Workforce (U-GROW) program provides students at eight CSU campuses in the greater Los Angeles area a chance to gain cancer research experience at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

“The great majority of students in our undergrad programs do not know what they want to do," says Darrah Kuratani, Ph.D., U-GROW program director and CSU Dominguez Hills lecturer. “Having an internship gives them a chance to ideate. It gives them a chance to try something on, get involved with something and meet other people who have been doing this work so that they can figure out if this is the right path for them."

The 12-month program is open to CSU students from Channel Islands, Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, Pomona and San Bernardino up to a year post-graduation. It begins with a week-long bootcamp that introduces participants to the basics of cancer as well as provides networking opportunities with faculty and graduate students involved in cancer research.

Based on their area of interest, from cancer prevention and treatment to bioengineering, students are then paired with a mentor at Cedars-Sinai with whom they complete a summer internship. The U-GROW program will pay for up to 360 hours of work—increased from the 120 hours offered to the first cohort based on student feedback. Out of the nine students who completed the internship in summer 2022, three were asked to stay on their research projects and several others were brought onto other projects for the remainder of the program.

After the internship, students participate in monthly scientific communications workshops, during which they practice reading, speaking, presenting and writing about research. These workshops give students individualized preparation for graduate programs and careers in science. They also create a poster on their internship research, which they then present at Cedars-Sinai to emulate a conference session.

“Being a good writer and knowing the resources to use when you have to write something can help give a student not only confidence, but more of a scientist's identity," Dr. Kuratani says.

U-GROW accepted 10 students for the 2022 cohort and will increase the group by five students each year until it reaches 25 students per year. To apply, students must include a nomination from a supervisor or mentor, such as a faculty member.

“[Faculty] understand the student population and what their needs are," Kuratani says. “That untapped talent in the classroom just needs some nurturing and a little bit of confidence. … Sometimes what a student needs [to try something new] is someone else to see that potential in them."

See what three U-GROW alumni say about the experience.

Students with their poster presentation at the STEM CRU reverse career fair

Preparing Career-Ready Grads

Stanislaus State launched CareerReadyU (CRU) in 2019 to connect students with professional development and experiential learning opportunities to better prepare them for the workforce. A key source of its offerings comes through partnerships with about 30 local employers—such as the Turlock Irrigation District, AIG insurance company, Turlock Unified School District and E. & J. Gallo Winery—who participate in campus job fairs, offer internships, provide informational interviews and hire new graduates.

“Our students know that those employers who are partnering with us want to help them either get an internship or career, because they want to keep [that talent] in the Central Valley," CRU Executive Director Julie Sedlemeyer says. “We work with employers to help them figure out how to build their presence on campus, how to connect with students and how they can help us help our students become career-ready."

To help students land internships, CareerReadyU provides a range of services including support for crafting resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn profiles; professional headshot stations; interview-appropriate clothing through the Warrior Wardrobe; and career coaching. In addition, CRU keeps students informed of available internships and application deadlines and helps them connect with employers through on-campus career fairs. This spring, CRU will offer its first Last Chance Career Job Fair for employers filling last-minute summer internship positions.

When students apply to positions with industry partners, the employers can notify the staff at CRU who will then help prepare the students for the interviews, whether online or in person. It also offers space on campus where employers can interview student candidates more conveniently.

“I want students to have that 'aha' moment [when they get an internship or job], that they did it right," Sedlemeyer says. “For a lot for our students, it's getting rid of that imposter syndrome—because they got into Stan State, they belong here, and they have value to add to that employer in that internship."

To provide work experience earlier in students’ college careers, the team used an ASPIRE federal grant to create STEM CRU, which provides paid, on-campus research internships with faculty members for incoming first-year and transfer students who are selected for the program. Afterward, the students create a poster series, which they present during a “reverse career fair event​” attended by local employers. Then later in their college career, STEM CRU connects the students with paid internships with industry partners.

“It's a way for students to get comfortable telling their story and performing research," Sedlemeyer says. “They build their network, and they find out what they're going to like or not. It's ok if they come back and hated the internship, because they still learned something valuable that they don't get in a survival job."

Finally, CRU supports its partners by conducting employer consultations to better match services to their recruitment needs, promoting internships through the HireStanState career site and helping employers build out new, paid internship programs for those without them. Ultimately, this work aims to create greater internship and work opportunities for Stanislaus State students and graduates.

“We're working to provide more opportunities for our students through these internships because most internship programs are pathways," Sedlemeyer says. “Employers are using these as their pipeline and are hiring their career people from the internship opportunities."

Hear from Stan State alumna Melana Cook, Business Administration, Accounting '22, about her CRU experience.

Play Video: Melana Cook- Accounting student shares what she learned from the CareerReadyU (CRU) program
Student meets with recruiters at CPP architecture Firm Day

Building an Architecture Career

For students studying architecture at the Cal Poly PomonaCollege of Environmental Design, a 500-hour internship is a required element of the five-year degree program.

Through the internship, “students get immersed in the culture of a firm," says George Proctor, department chair and professor in the Department of Architecture. “They may not be operating at the full tilt of somebody who's deeply immersed in a project, but students have an opportunity to see and do a lot. They might do drawings, visit projects, work on models or use [advanced] computer software. … When students come out of school, they're well-outfitted and are interested in taking their skills and putting them to work."

Not only does the internship count toward their graduation requirement, it allows students to work toward their architecture license. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), the professional association administering architecture licenses, requires individuals to complete 3,740 hours of related work as part of the licensing process. CPP architecture faculty work with NCARB to keep students updated on licensing requirements and help students register with the organization to track the hours of their internships. Those 500 internship hours can then be applied to the hours required for the license.

“We're establishing a behavior in the students that leads them toward the next steps after school to be licensed and practicing," Proctor says.

Proctor also highlights the real-world experience students encounter in the internship setting that they don't get in the classroom, such as approaching city government for plan approval, corresponding with consultants or preparing presentations for a public setting.

“They get to see what that's like and to be, in a sense, like a fly on the wall," he says. “The big difference between practice and school is, in reality out in the world, most things are accomplished in a team setting. In an internship, students are in a context where they start to see that dynamic in a way that is not really possible in school."

To help students find an internship, the architecture program hosts an annual Firm Day held during the spring semester. While students can meet with recruiters at the event, their resumes and portfolios are also preloaded into a database ahead of time so employers can interview students the day of. Visits to project sites and local firms also expose students to potential workplaces.

In addition, the Department of Architecture partners with firms to help connect students with work opportunities—including Gensler, LPA Design Studios and Architects Orange, which all employ large numbers of CPP alumni. For example, Gensler's western regional director, LPA Design Studios' CEO and Architects Orange's first woman partner all graduated from CPP's architecture program. Given the alumni connection, their paid internship opportunities become a pipeline for students looking for employment post-graduation and a chance to network with those in the field.

“We help facilitate connections to the larger cultural community of the discipline that leads to opportunities that go way beyond what you can offer within the five-year degree," Proctor says. “Landing an internship or a job is a people thing. You have to be able to do the work, get things accomplished and do it well, but the relationships you build are what's going to make a path for you somewhere. The program and faculty make sure that's an integral part of what students get out of us."

Take a look at a past Cal Poly Pomona Architecture Firm Day.

Play Video: Cal Poly Pomona Architecture Firm Day

Learn more about CSU industry partnerships and their critical role in preparing California's workforce.