Sunday, April 20, 2014
Two years after launching a program to increase experiential learning, University of Maine at Farmington officials say student internships have tripled.
NOW HEAR THIS: University of Maine in Farmington student Hayley Smith-Rose now works at Mountain Wireless radio station True Oldies in Waterville, where she is an executive sales coordinator.
Staff photo by David Leaming
PARTNERS: Celeste Branham, right, vice president of Student and Community Services at the University of Maine in Farmington, and grant writer Lorraine Pratt discuss the Partnership for Civic Advancement program, which assists students with internship opportunities.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Not all countries’ economic systems rely on internships, said Celeste Branham, director of UMF’s Partnership for Civic Advancement.
Internships through the program have increased from 18 students to 66 students over the past two years.
Branham, UMF’s vice president of student and community affairs, studied the German apprenticeship system on a Fulbright Scholarship this fall.
She said about two-thirds of their workers have had apprenticeships, which they participate in for four to six years.
“When they leave, they have had the actual practical experience in the field,”she said. “It ensures a trained workforce and secures their economy.”
Branham said in Germany there are different tracks that students are placed on for secondary education for heading to universities, arts universities and technical schools.
For the different tracks, a majority of students are placed in apprenticeships that they work at for four or six years before eventually getting a job in the field, often by the company that trained them.
The system is being credited as a factor keeping the country’s unemployment rate lower than its financially troubled neighbors, she said.
She said in the future she is interested in the partnership possibly working with school districts on apprenticeship programs.
Branham said German companies in the U.S. are interested in American apprentices, and she could see more businesses drawn to the apprenticeship program to ensure a skilled workforce.
“But they would need to have tax incentives,” she said.
“And that’s not a static figure. We are always working with new partners and new students,” program director Celeste Branham said.
Branham, vice president of student and community services, said the goal of the partnership to grow university-community relations and get students involved in experiential learning.
“For students, it’s a way for them to test career interests, to network and to gain skills,” she said.
Area nonprofits and businesses are evaluated and then approved into the UMF’s list of partner organizations that it sends students to for hands-on learning.
The program for now focuses on student internships, but also is incrementally phasing in partnership organizations for undergraduate research, service learning, volunteering and leadership education and training.
Before the partnership was created, students still interned and some majors required interning; but the quality of and requirements for internships varied, Branham said.
One reason for centralizing the way UMF students intern in the community, Branham said, is make sure students are treated fairly and gain job skills from their experience.
Elsewhere, college students have made national news in the last two years for arguing they were taken advantage of through unpaid internships that violated federal labor laws.
The U.S. Department of Labor requires that unpaid internships at for-profit businesses be primarily educational opportunities “similar to training that would be given in a vocational school,” and not used by companies to replace paid labor.
Different unpaid interns have filed class-action lawsuits demanding back pay for unpaid internships. Targets of lawsuits against former employers include Hearst Magazines and Conde Nast.
“We haven’t had any issues of controversy here,” said Branham, who has followed the developments in the news, “but it is something worth noting and watching.”
Branham said UMF’s program has taken measures to ensure all internships in their program are educational, and to get student’s compensation for their work.
At their program, they screen businesses prior to admitting them as partner organizations with the school, and the student and partner sign to contracts so they are accountable.
“We don’t want the students to just be making copies or getting coffee,” she said.
University staff members visit and monitor the program, and so far, she said, they’ve had no problems with partners and retained 100 percent of programs they’re working with.
The university also offers $1,200 stipends through Bangor Savings Bank for some students so they can afford to work at the companies, program grant writer Lorraine Pratt said.
“If we didn’t have the stipends, a lot of our students just wouldn’t be able to do it,” Pratt said.
Branham said it is challenging to find paid internships, because many of the students are partnered with small businesses or nonprofits that would like to teach a student but don’t have room in the budget for pay.
Because of this, she said, program staff members also are working with organizations on cost-sharing agreements, through which the university splits the cost of compensating the intern with the partner.
“They might agree to pay so much per hour or pay the first few weeks of the internship,” she said.
The university also has systems in place to make sure the student holds up his or her end of the partnership.
The students sign a contract and are briefed prior to the internship on workplace etiquette and expectations, and they are evaluated at the end by their supervisors.
“Our concern is that these placements be mutually beneficial,” Branham said.
One of the group’s partner organizations, United Way of the Tri-Valley Area, has benefited from students in the partnership since the program’s start, said Nancy Teele, United Way volunteer center coordinator.
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