Internships can offer valuable learning experiences for college students looking to land the ideal job following graduation.
But few provide an opportunity quite like the one extended by the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission in its quest to market the city as a cultural destination.
By summer's end, three undergrads will have traipsed the Hoosier state visiting fairs and festivals in a van decorated with the large, red arrow becoming synonymous with the promotional campaign.
Whether their itinerary includes stops at the Pierogi Festival in Whiting or Freuden Fest in Oldenburg, the three are eager to tout the city's attractions to the rest of the state.
"What distinguishes this from a lot of internships is that we do have a lot of creative input," said Adam Newman, a senior at Indiana University who is eager to soak in Fort Wayne's German- fest.
In other words, he and Danielle Levoit, a junior at New York University, and Sarah McClamroch, a sophomore at DePauw University, are likely to avoid the mundane chores often relegated to interns.
Whatever the circumstances, though, experts say it is critical for students to seek work before embarking on a career.
Philip Gardner, research director for the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, writes the yearly Recruiting Trends report. He said internships are becoming the preferred path to employment. Because the economy is moving so quickly, candidates must enter positions already demonstrating the necessary skills, he said.
"It is expected that students have those kinds of experiences as part of the package they bring with them when they graduate," Gardner said. "[Employers are] looking for them to have a sense of what work is like."
The launching of the Solution Center shows the importance IUPUI has placed on helpings students locate internships. The center is funded in part by a $5.5 million grant Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded to Indiana University to develop job opportunities for its graduates.
The center opened last year to develop business partnerships and internships to help keep college graduates from leaving the state. IU was one of 37 colleges and universities that received a total of $38.9 million in grants from the endowment's initiative.
"Through the Solution Center, we've focused on increasing internship opportunities," said Chris Blystone, assistant director for internships and experiential education at IUPUI. "The savvy students know that they need to have that internship experience to get a job when they graduate."
Shannon Cook, one of six nursing students selected to train this summer in Methodist Hospital's trauma center, is one of them. The University of Indianapolis senior started late last month after hospital officials selected her from a slew of candidates.
Cook is pursuing a degree in nursing and is eager to absorb what she can from the medical staff. Under the supervision of a registered nurse, she can perform all the duties of an RN, except for distributing medicine. Her experience will even include shifts in which she will be assigned to the hospital's Lifeline helicopter.
A job in Methodist's emergency room following graduation would be ideal, she said.
"I like the fast-paced environment and thinking on your feet," Cook said. "It's pretty exciting sometimes."
Katherine Fidler, a pharmacy student who is in her sixth and last year at Butler University's pharmacy program, has begun a different type of internship than the standard one that might last a summer or semester.
Her training will last 10 months and is required by the university and the state in order to receive a pharmacy license. What is interesting to Fidler is that she will work in a variety of places during the next year, including pharmacies, hospitals, insurance companies and pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. She will spend about one month at each location.
"The rotations are neat, because we have to do some of each type of pharmacy practice, so it gives us a good idea of what we want to do when we graduate," she said. "I truly don't think I could have picked something I'd be happier at. I just love it."
Like Cook, she is working at Methodist, and next will make stops at the Roudebush VA Medical Center and at one of the Walgreen Drug Stores. Following graduation next spring, she plans to work at a hospital.
Meanwhile, Newman, Levoit and McClamroch are not necessarily interested in a career in the tourism industry.
Newman is pursuing degrees in political science and environmental management, Levoit in economics and international business, and McClamroch in English and communications. But they think their time at the cultural development commission will prove valuable to their education and add some diversity to their resumÃ©s.
The commission, which was created in 2001, had never employed a summer staff before. Leaders first had wanted to hire two students but settled on three. That way, two can pilot the van to an outlying destination while the other patronizes a local event, said Jennie Guimont, deputy director of cultural tourism.
"This is very grass roots," she said. "It's just one more layer to the arrow message and will complement the more traditional advertising."
The trio hope to log their travels on an online blog. But, as Levoit said, they also hope they don't get lost in the hinterlands of Hoosier country.