Pomona College recently launched a new Summer Internship Program (SIP) to augment their pre-existing Pomona College Internship Program (PCIP) and Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). While SURP is an academic initiative, PCIP solely operates during the semester and within the greater Los Angeles area. The new SIP enables students to participate in minimum 240-hour internships in non-academic settings, enabling more time-intensive experiences than PCIP or SURP can provide.

The program is funded through a series of alumni grants covering travel and living expenses for which students compete. In an interview with the Forum, Pomona Internship Coordinator Iris Gardner (PO ’09) describes the work that students do as, “important, but [something which] the fate of the company does not rest on”, such as creating grant proposals and presentations. This way, she says students gain “transferable skills” while being allowed to “dig deeper” within themselves.

A total of eight positions were offered in the most recent round of the summer internship program and included opportunities with organizations like Upward Bound, the East Asia Office of the U.S. Treasury and Green Corps.

Though the recipients so far were all either upcoming seniors or juniors, the program is open to all years.

At an institutional level, the summer internship program is designed to address what Gardner describes as the “extreme importance” of providing students with, “real-world experiences.” She adds that she aims for the program to present “pivotal” experiences for Pomona students to determine their future paths.

While Pomona’s summer internship program is flexible, it includes a comprehensive review process that as Gardner says, is intended to “facilitate the internship process” by clarifying expectations about what both student and employer are meant to deliver. This system extends over the duration of the internship and comprises an initial agreement form, three journals, a mid-internship evaluation and a final evaluation. Far from straitjacketing the internship, Gardner opines that employers find it beneficial that “[students] are held accountable by someone else too.”

As for finding the right internship, Gardner adds that students conduct up to three informational interviews with alumni in order to find one that is a good “personality fit.” However, she notes that while Pomona alumni “are a really huge support”, many would like to see students reach out more.

Internships play a vital role in helping students find jobs after graduation. According to the 2011 Student Survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, “[…] graduates who took part in a paid internship were more likely to get a job offer, have a job in hand by the time they graduated, and receive a higher starting salary offer than their peers who undertook an unpaid internship or no internship at all.” Even though Pomona’s latest internship initiative is in its infancy, it will hopefully continue to grow and provide valuable opportunities for Pomona students. Already, it has received four additional internship-funding commitments for the coming summer.

Emily Miner '12 and Iris Gardner '09, internship coordinator (Photo Courtesy of Pomona College)

Pomona isn’t alone in recognizing the importance of internships to students. As Richard M. Freeland writes in the Winter 2009 Liberal Education released by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, “In recent years, undergraduates have sensed that a traditional liberal education may not, by itself, be a sufficient preparation for the adult world.”

Liberal arts colleges, including Pomona, are increasingly using internships as an important way of delivering the proverbial bang for the buck: justifying the value of their education by providing students a platform to access, understand and be evaluated by potential employers. Further, Freeland notes, “Administrators also know that offering off-campus experiences or adding practice-oriented coursework to a liberal arts curriculum can help maintain strong enrollments.” This is an especially crucial differentiation in the current recessionary environment, when a liberal arts education is often expensive and time-consuming.

An interesting point though: Freeland argues that “although many high-status institutions have made room for internships and service-learning courses—[…] leading liberal arts colleges, for example, Amherst, Bowdoin, Clark, Smith and Williams have all done so—none, as yet, has made these types of experiences a central part of the learning experience or explicitly embraced the linking of liberal education with practice.”

Sherylle Tan, Associate Director of Research and Internships at the Kravis Leadership Institute (KLI) notes, internships and experiential learning are also a “huge part of CMC education.” CMC students have access to an established and rapidly expanding array of opportunities for the same through the various on-campus research institutes. According to Dr. Tan, KLI alone offers around twenty of nearly one hundred internship positions available through the college.

On balance, Pomona’s new summer internships program is a positive development that opens up a new range of learning opportunities for students there. Especially in coming years, it should form a new and exciting dimension to education at the 5Cs.