No matter what college you go to or what you study, it is always a good idea to participate in a work-based learning experience such as an internship or cooperative education. These are special programs where a student applies what they are learning in school in a real work environment. It is sometimes possible to earn college credit. The number of credits will vary from one college to another and there may be limitations on what jobs you can do according to the requirements for your major.
To acquire information on the work-based learning programs at your school, you can contact the career center or the counseling office. Discuss your career academic goals with the career center or counseling staff. They will be able to tell you about the policies and procedures for obtaining college credit for your work. Many work-based learning programs hold meetings during certain times of the week. These meetings serve important purposes. First, they give students the opportunities to meet with others that are doing internships. Second, they give students the opportunities to talk over work-related issues. You can learn how to make the most of your work experience and what kinds of problems might occur.
You should participate in work-based learning activities throughout your academic studies. You may want to do your work during the summer while you are not taking classes. Keep in mind that not all work areas offer internships. You should apply to several places and pick the one you like best. You want to do a job that offers activities you like. Some possible work areas include local radio stations, libraries, high tech companies, and organizations that serve people with disabilities. The application process will vary from one work area to another. You may be able to apply online or you can contact the career or counseling center at your college to get assistance with filling out the application.
After you have applied, you may be called in for interviews at each organization. Arrange transportation as soon as you hear about the interview. Once you reach the workplace, you will want to tell the employer what kind of work you are interested in. You may also want to discuss your accommodation and adaptive technology needs. However, you are not required to request accommodation until the time of a job offer. Sometimes, especially if your disability is obvious, it makes sense to get this conversation started at the beginning.
Once you get approved for an internship, you should check with the program advisor to make sure it counts for credit. I found this out the hard way back in 1997. I had completed an internship at Oregon Public Broadcasting and I did technical work that I thought would count for credit. I did not find out until the next term that it did not count.
Other preparations may be necessary. For example, if you're blind, like me, and you don't know where your work area is, you should arrange for mobility training. It is good to know the route to your job before you start work. In addition, if you need to acquire any adaptive equipment, you should order it once you know where you will be working and when you know what you will need.
On your first day of work you will want to learn the layout of your work area and basic operations. Make contact with your supervisor and begin any necessary training on how to use equipment and perform job functions. Here are some of my words of advice while you are on the job:
- Be up-front with people about what is going on. If something happens where you might have to leave, inform the employer and cooperative education director as soon as possible. If you have to take time off, you should ask your employer first if it is ok. You should then contact the cooperative education director and ask them if you will still get the credit you are working towards. In addition, if there is a problem with the transportation that is causing you to run late, call your employer as soon as you hear about it. They may ask you to work extra hours to make up the time or work an extra day after the term. It is good to have a wireless phone. If you don't have wireless access, you should always have change to make a call on a pay phone so your employer knows what is going on.
- Periodically, you should ask your employer to evaluate your work. Part of doing a work experience is knowing where to improve. Your employer will tell you what they like and what they think you should work on.
- If you do a job you really like and want to consider doing a similar job when you graduate, talk to your employer about the availability of similar jobs at other work places. They may be able to direct you to people to contact. I worked at the Oregon Commission for the Blind one summer and I taught students how to use talking PC systems and did research on adaptive tools for the visually impaired. I asked my supervisor what the difference was between doing technical support for the visually impaired and doing it for the general public. After this experience, I decided to do technical work after college.
- Your employer might send you a recommendation for your work if you did a good job. Recommendations can be very useful. You can show them to future employers and it will increase your chances of getting a job. When you go to a future interview, bring a copy of both your resume and recommendation to show your potential employer.
- Suppose you have reached the end of your college education and you do an internship to earn your final credits. If you did a paid work experience you really liked, it may develop into a full-time job. If the employer liked your work and wants to keep you, you might not have to fill out another application for your next position.
- When you write your resume, incorporate information about your completed internship. A successful experience will help you get your next job.
No matter what your goals are or how close you are to completing your education, I would strongly recommend that you do an internship. It is a good way to earn college credit and/or add to your résumé. You might receive a recommendation and your internship might turn into a full-time job. Regardless it will pay off in the future.