Tuesday a steady stream of students, dressed as dour as Pilgrims in businesswear, cradling portfolios under their arms, strode toward the Field House on campus.
|BGSU senior Ce'Ara Rice-Malkowski, middle, talks to Pam Strohmeyer of Rehmann during a jobs and interships fair held on the campus of Bowling Green State University. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Inside the Field House the future spread out before them. Tables were set with pens and brochures and business people waiting to test their readiness to work.
Some of those attending Bowling Green State University's EXPO 2013 Job & Internship Fair felt they already had a leg up.
Looking toward graduation in May, Matt Fink put in a summer doing marketing for Marathon Oil. That experience, he said, gives him extra confidence as he looks for a full-time position.
Dominique Harris, a sports management major, feels his internships with the Toledo Walleyes and Toledo Mud Hens taught him how to present himself in a professional setting and how to manage a full-time job.
He was working, he said, up to 30 hours a week while maintaining a 15-hour course load.
Both men said they'd recommend doing an internship or co-op, a more intensive work experience, to all students.
In her State of the University Address, BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey said all students should have the opportunity to get work experience while students.
Right now about 4,000 BGSU students are engaged in some form of experiential learning, said Jeffery Jackson, assistant vice president for enrollment management.
"We have a long way to go," Mazey said in a recent interview. "It'll take awhile."
Her passion for experiential learning dates back to her first administrative position, overseeing an interdisciplinary urban studies program. And she's seen the benefit such learning has for her own children.
While The College of Technology requires three co-ops, other academic units require none.
Too many students, Mazey said, in Arts and Sciences "walk away with a degree, and they've really not had contact with professional employers."
Internships for them would be "a great way to understand how the liberal arts really apply to the work place."
The goal, Jackson said, is to "help students realize their dreams."
That push starts as soon as students arrive on campus, he said. "We saturate them with occupational information, so they can make an informed decision about what they want to do post-college."
The problem is "most students are only aware to what they're exposed to" before arriving on campus.
That can result in students changing majors several times, and possibly graduating with no clear direction.
"We look at three things - personality, values and interest," Jackson said.
A student who dreams of living in a big house is going to want a job that supports that dream. Another student may want to express their "more altruistic side" by going into health care or teaching, and they will need to realize that some of those occupations may only pay $30,0000 or $40,000.
"I believe it is important for students these days to understand what their future will be like if they go into a chosen profession, and this is one vehicle for doing that," Mazey said.
She recalled a student at another institution who completed an internship. It was the best experience she had in college, the student told Mazey. "Now I know what I don't want to do."
The university has received a grant as part of a state program aimed at promoting internships and co-ops in selected business, science and technology fields.
But a court decision handed down this summer also shed a harsh light on the dark side of internships, mostly those not offered through an academic institution.
Jackson said the university goes to great lengths to make sure students aren't just doing menial work. Before the internship starts, the employer has to spell out what the student will do, and "in the end we follow up to make sure that the student wasn't exploited."
Jackson visits job sites to see where students are being placed.
Most unpaid internship are for non-profits. Many in the private sector are paid, such as marketing student Fink's position with Marathon Oil.
Students can work in unpaid positions if there is academic credit attached.
Experiential learning is becoming more expected. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 70 percent of employers wanted students with work experience in schools, Jackson said.
This can put students who have to work just to get by at a disadvantage. But Jackson said those work experiences also show work ethic which companies seek more and more. Also, jobs on campus through federal Work Study programs can offer good experiences.
Internships may not be right for everyone, Mazey said. Some adult learners come with plenty of on-the-job experience, they just need the academic credentials. Still, all students should have the chance for these opportunities.
Jackson said he is also trying to develop more possibilities locally to reduce the burden of travel.
Those internships can lead to jobs. "That 10-week assignment is a 10-week interview," Jackson said. "It gives employers and students a chance to try each other out without having a formal agreement."
That was the case for Ryan Barnaby, one of the employers taking part in the jobs fair at BGSU. A district manager for Fastenal, a distributor of industrial supplies, he started working with the company part-time while a student at Bluffton College. That was 16 years ago.
Jennifer Piwkowski, a senior computer science major, came away from the jobs fair pleased. She had already secured three interviews and a couple more possibilities.
She credits time spent at Cedar Point writing code as one of the factors that played in her favor. The internship not only helped her with her technical skills but how to deal with management and co-workers in an office setting. "I definitely learned a lot from it."