December 21, 2010

So You Want A Job…

December 21, 2010 - International Affairs major (and Environmental Studies minor) Claire Cummings blogs on the value of unpaid internships.

December 21, 2010

For the past three and a half years I have spent buckets of money to work for free. This full time job I like to call “college” demands long hours and countless odd tasks, yet I willingly and gladly show up to class every day because I know it matters. Everyone is told go to school, get good grades, and a job will come. But somewhere between the economic downturn and the influx of brilliant kids graduating from college, the “getting the job” part of that process has fallen by the wayside for many graduates. As a second semester senior I have yet to experience a post-graduation job search, but after seeing enough friends go through the process I feel as though I have learned a thing or two. The best piece of advice I was given by a 2010 alumna was: get an internship, and get it now.

Doing well in school and achieving respectable grades are certainly crucial, yet as any LC graduate can tell you it’s not about the letters you receive but rather the skills you gain from your college education (see this blog post by Andrew Coggiola ’09). While international relations theories and rock climbing 101 have taught me a great deal, it is a bit of a stretch to connect the skills I gained from those courses to a job in food policy and programs (my dream career). I have, however, participated in two internships this past year and they have been wonderful ways to incorporate my career interests into my college education.

My first internship was with Oregon State Representative Jules Kopel Bailey, a Lewis & Clark alumnus whom I met at a Student Alumni Association Majors Meeting. When I first asked about a position in March he wasn’t in need of an intern, but with enough persistence I was able to secure a summer internship. During my time in the representative’s office I responded to constituent e-mails on animal cruelty, answered concerned phone calls about state budget cuts, and investigated the status of pending bills on pollution in Oregon coastal waters. In addition, one week in September I had the chance to fill in for the Representative’s senior policy advisor to take care of the Capitol office for a few days. I learned a great a deal about state legislation and the inner workings of local politics.

Since my time in Jules’ office, I have taken on a second internship working with the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Food Policy and Programs. I have done everything from recording minutes at the monthly Urban Food Production and Distribution meetings to revising a grant application for hunger free communities to surveying the Portland community-supported agriculture economy. And believe it or not, I got school credit for it!

These positions have opened many doors for me. I have gained a fuller understanding of the careers I want to pursue, I have networked with countless individuals and organizations, and most importantly I have gained experience in the workforce before my job search has even begun. The unpaid job of an intern is certainly nothing glamorous, but when graduation rolls around and everyone else is looking for ways to enter the business, I can rest assured my foot is already in the door. So go to college, get good grades (and an internship), and then hopefully a job will come!