Beyond the Classroom: Liberal Arts Students Seek Real World Experience

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In a time when potential employers are increasingly interested in more than just a grade point average, students are turning to internships, even in disciplines that don’t require it—and even though many of the internships are unpaid. For the first story in the series, WPSU’s Kate Lao Shaffner will tell us about a Penn State liberal arts student whose experience in Berlin exemplifies this new trend.



TRANSCRIPT:

LEAD-IN: Beyond the Classroom is a new occasional series on WPSU about student learning beyond the university walls. In a time when potential employers are increasingly interested in more than just a grade point average, students are turning to internships, even in disciplines that don’t require it—and even though many of the internships are unpaid. For the first story in the series, WPSU’s Kate Lao Shaffner will tell us about a Penn State liberal arts student whose experience in Berlin exemplifies this new trend.


SOUND: Hub/coffee shop.

Chloe Weaver is at the Hub Robeson Center at Penn State University Park for an early morning cup of coffee. As a college senior, she blends in with the crowds of students. But just a few months ago, Weaver was working in Berlin, Germany.

[Sound cut in.]

WEAVER: I was just another suit. I was commuting every morning in traffic.

Weaver worked at the American Embassy as a US State Department student intern. She spent half her days doing research—mostly in German--and the other half attending embassy functions and conferences. She even helped at an event where she got to meet President Obama and the First Lady.

WEAVER: It’s a one of a kind experience. It’s also just kind of cool. You get to work for a US embassy in another country, and that’s awesome.

Weaver says she loved the pace and culture of Berlin, but it wasn’t just a fun experience. She says her time in Berlin is the reason potential employers take her seriously. Weaver is a history and German double major with a minor in economics. She hopes to work in economics or management consulting but she also has an interest in governance and policy.

WEAVER: With a history degree, they look at me like “why are you here?” and then I have to convince them that my experiences prove that the knowledge and the skill that I’ve acquired as a liberal arts major are applicable to the real business world.

Weaver could well be the poster child for the College of Liberal Arts Career Enrichment Network, which provides liberal arts students with resources for career-related planning and experiences. Susan Knell, the director of the office, says Penn State liberal arts majors aren’t required to do an internship, but more and more students are choosing to anyway.

KNELL: I believe it’s really an integral part of the educational experience for a liberal student, to help them to explore, see how they’d like to use and apply their skills they’re getting in the classroom. It really is an important component of their time and their educational experience here.

But there are challenges for liberal arts students. Robert Shindell is vice-president and chief learning officer of InternBridge, a recruiting and research firm that specializes in college experiential education. He says there’s a history of liberal arts internships being unpaid.

SHINDELL: What we find is that the predominance of unpaid internships in the liberal arts is staggeringly high. Much more so than students who are interested in business, engineering, healthcare, or another one of those large professional degree-seeking majors.

Knell, from Penn State’s Liberal Arts Career Enrichment Network, wants to change that. She says there are paid internships out there for liberal arts students willing to think outside their major. She’s helped students get paid internships at companies like Amazon, Intel, and Johnson and Johnson.

KNELL: Our work is cut out for us in helping them realize that these opportunities exist, and that in almost any organization there is a place where critical thinking, good communication skills, excellent writing skills, the ability to work with a global team are really valued.

Chris Long, an associate dean at the College of Liberal Arts, says a liberal arts education equips students with just the skills companies say they’re looking for. But it’s important for students to communicate their skills in a way that’s understandable to employers.

LONG: Maybe they shouldn’t lead with the fact that they’re a history major, but actually talk about the group work they did in their history class and the amount of writing they’ve done, and the fact that they’ve studied abroad. There are skills that come along with this that are actually really valuable in the job market.

Long says the College of Liberal Arts has raised money specifically earmarked for student career experience. A lot of support—and funding—comes from alumni, including a recent $1 million gift from Virginia Todd Chapel, who graduated from Penn State in 1965 with a degree in English. In fact, although Chloe Weaver’s internship in Berlin was unpaid, she was able to fully fund her trip by applying for fellowships and grants through the Career Enrichment Network.

And she says there’s no doubt her experience will pay off in the future.

WEAVER: At the end of the day, it’s a pretty irreplaceable experience and does give me a lot of hands-on experience that will pay back later in my career.
It’s so important that you don’t wait until you graduate and you’re 22 to be like, wait, there’s so much I could’ve tried. You might as well try it now.

SOUND: Footsteps, door closes.

A quick walk across the street and Weaver is at the Osmond Lab for a review session to prepare for a midterm.

SOUND: review session

The review session is optional, but Weaver doesn’t want to miss this opportunity to be as prepared as possible.

I’m Kate Lao Shaffner, WPSU.

TAG: This is the first story in our new series Beyond the Classroom. Submit your ideas to beyondtheclassroom@psu.edu.


Photo credit: Chloe Weaver

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