Student participation in CHOICE Internship program on the rise: Students see value, but many wait too long before undertaking internships

FSU’s paid internship program, CHOICE (Community and Hometown Organizations Internships and Cooperative Education), has been awarding students paid internships since the spring 2013 semester.

Over the last few years, there has been an upward trend with regard to participation in CHOICE. Participation has been increasing since 2017, with the total number of internships undertaken by students rising from 62 that year to 79 the following year.

In fact, based on fall participation rates from 2017 and 2018, participation for the 2019 year is on track to surpass those two previous years, with 31 internships undertaken this fall alone.

According to Internship Coordinator Jill Gardosik, CHOICE provides an opportunity for students to get real-world job experience while simultaneously earning an income.

In order to participate in CHOICE, students must meet eligibility requirements set by the state – including holding at least a 2.75 GPA.

For the 2018-19 academic year, the state allocated $110,393, according to Gardosik. Each student who undertakes an internship is able to earn up to $4,800 based on the number of hours the student works at the internship and the amount of their financial aid package.

She said CHOICE was implemented at FSU after the state determined students were essentially disregarding unpaid internships, and ultimately, the benefits that came with them.

“The Commonwealth noticed an alarming trend of students only applying to paid internship positions. As a result, they were missing out on excellent opportunities to build skills, create a professional network, and be mentored by well-educated, highly skilled and accomplished people,” she said.

Like students across the state, FSU students greatly value paid internships.

Sophomore Courtney Schleyer said, “I would be way more likely to accept an internship if it was paid.”

Freshman Dannie Messias said, “I’d be more likely to take a paid internship [than an unpaid one], to be honest – especially because you’re going to be working and juggling schoolwork.

“I’d only take an unpaid internship if it had to do with [a non-profit that does] volunteer work,” she added.

Senior Joanis Nieves, a working parent of two, said, “I probably would not do an internship unless it was paid. People have responsibilities outside of school, especially if you are an older student. Denying student workers some sort of income is a bit disrespectful.”

Gardosik said she strives to process every student application the day it is submitted.

According to Gardosik, FSU dedicates the resources to administer CHOICE because the goal is to give students the best chance to thrive and develop professionally.

“We want to see all students be successful – polish skills they already have, gain skills they didn’t have – all of which will make them prepared to enter a career or graduate school, depending on their choice. That is really important to the University,” said Gardosik.

“Also, while it is not traditional, we also hope to see the internship lead to a full-time position [within the company the student interned at],” she said.

Much like Gardosik and the support staff at Career Services and Employer Relations, the students themselves say they recognize the benefits accepting an internship can have on their professional and academic growth and development.

Freshman Bryan Beltre said, “These internships prepare you for the future and the career that you want to pursue.”

Graduate student Felicia Oglesby said, “Paid internships are very important for students from a professional standpoint. But it also can help them pay for [expenses such as] gas, parking, and work attire.”

Senior Rylee Holmes, who undertook a paid internship at Genesis Counseling – an internship that was funded by CHOICE – believes the economic benefits provided by CHOICE can help students dedicate more time to their studies and other commitments.

“The fact that it is paid has taken the pressure off of having to add more hours at my job so that I am better able to focus on classes and the internships,” said Holmes.

“I don’t think I would have been able to do it if it was unpaid because it would take up time I could be using to work for money,” she added.

Although students seemingly recognize the benefits of accepting an internship, very few of them undertake internships this time of year, Gardosik said.

“I have 31 students enrolled in internships for fall 2019,” she said.

“It is about the same number of students from last year – usually our fall numbers tend to be lower,” she added.

In fact, most students Gardosik has worked with wait too long before they undertake an internship.

“Sadly, a lot of students will wait until the second semester of their senior year to participate in an internship, and that is never in their best interest,” she said.

Gardosik hopes more students will begin to take advantage of the opportunities CHOICE provides as she has seen how much students who accept more than one internship benefit from the experience.

“Some students will participate in the fall and they’ll have such a good experience, they’ll go look for another internship for spring semester or the following year,” she said.

She added, “Kudos to those who take advantage of multiple internships.”

[Editor’s note: Rylee Holmes is a staff writer for The Gatepost.]

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