Twenty percent of EWU students complete an internship every year, gaining invaluable experience in their future careers; but students often have trouble finding the right company or don’t know where to start looking. That’s where the Career Services office and EWU Internship Coordinator Romeal Watson come in.
Watson oversees about 36 academic programs on campus. He trains students on how to find internships, including coaching them on reaching out to internships and employment opportunities and teaching students about the overall process.
“There’s a lot of reflective things on the student’s part if they know what kind of industry they want to go into, and that’s a work in progress because they don’t always know up front,” said Watson. “That’s a part of the support we offer in our office is ‘what can I major in’ … Maybe an internship can help me figure out what my industry interests might be, but that’s sort of how the two worlds come together.”
When possible, Watson suggests students complete two internships. The first internship should be between freshman and sophomore year for career exploration, and the second between junior and senior year to narrow focus and gain practical experience.
“For the students who know they want to work in a hospital setting with children, pediatrics of some sort, but they aren’t quite sure what capacity,” said Watson. “They can attempt an internship in that area and explore other options and capacities of that same work. Also true of students that just aren’t sure and so they are just going through different industries.”
“Think about what interests they have and narrow it down to three or four academic interests.” -Romeal Watson, EWU Internship Coordinator
While students can’t explore every career through internship, Watson says exploring a couple is manageable: “Think about what interests they have and narrow it down to three or four academic interests and from there decide what internship might work best.”
For students struggling to narrow a career focus, Watson recommends resources like CareerExplorer that allow students to find their career emphasis based on their passions and interests, and can help them figure out what type of work environment their personality might be well suited for.
“For students who are declared, it gives them a chance to narrow down their focus a little more intensely,” said Watson. “So, if they are an electrical engineer and they want to go into power or do other things like that, they can be in the industry and figure out specifically what that’s like. [It’s] a chance to amp up what their focus is already in.”
Of the 36 majors Watson works with, only six currently require internships; they can still be taken for course credit as an elective in other majors.
Alondra De La Cruz, a senior studying criminal justice and sociology, recently worked with Watson to land her a spot in the Washington State Legislative Intern Program in Olympia.
De La Cruz was selected among 70 other Washington students. This internship application process required a resume, cover letter, personal essay, letters of recommendation, transcript and interview.
“I went to so many people for help … I stopped by Romeal’s office a total of three times to talk and prepare for my interview, and I also had a chance to talk to a former intern Angelica Garcia; (current student at EWU and part of ASEWU) for help,” said De La Cruz. “I am very thankful for Romeal & Angelica for helping me throughout the process and encouraging me to take this opportunity.”
“I am very thankful for Romeal & Angelica for helping me throughout the process and encouraging me to take this opportunity.” -Alondra De La Cruz, Senior
De La Cruz said that as a legislative intern, she has learned to take up space: “As a woman and especially a woman of color (WOC) I had to be able to step out and speak up.”
“The Legislature is still a predominately white institution where there are many issues within that differ from one another,” De La Cruz said. “But you have to be willing to speak out on things that you are passionate about or things that you know are wrong.”
For students currently applying on campus, De La Cruz offered some advice. “Take advantage of the services on campus such as going to career services, the writing center, or talk to past interns, and put in the work.”
“Sometimes when applying to internships they can be scary, but do take that chance on yourself and apply to as many as you can.,” De La Cruz said. “The more you apply to the more chances you have.”
For many students, this is their first time dipping their toe into the professional world. Navigating the terms and understanding what their internships actually entail may seem intimidating. The number one question Watson gets is how to find an internship, but the question students often don’t know to ask is what an internship really is.
“They have an idea based off of things that they’ve heard and they know the internship is doing some sort of worktype thing at a company,” said Watson. “They don’t know that there’s a whole academic piece to it.”
Watson explained that just because an employer hasn’t listed an opportunity, doesn’t mean one isn’t available or that one can’t be created.
“There’s really no boundaries when deciding where you want to do your internship,” Watson said. “It’s just a matter of figuring out what organization might be a good fit based off their principles or mission statement or whatever they are doing in terms of projects and just calling them and asking them.”
Given the current career climate and the ambitious nature of job seekers, Watson said, students are not the first call they have gotten, so they shouldn’t be afraid to reach out.
Networking can be crucial for finding employment and internship opportunities. About 60-80% of people find their jobs by going to events and meeting people in person, according to Watson. He encourages students to take advantage of any events bringing together employers and professionals in their field to find interning opportunities.
“What I find is that it’s actually easier because they see that you’re a student and that you’re taking initiative,” said Watson. “Networking is a scary word, but for those who work through the process, while working with us and get those jitters out, it’s one of the most effective ways of finding both jobs and internships.”
There are internship opportunities everywhere, even right here at EWU. Health and Wellness, Community Engagement, SAIL, Exercise Science and Psychology have all offered opportunities to students.
There are other opportunities for students looking for experience or a clearer outlook on their careers that are also less time-consuming than interning.
Through observation hours or job shadowing, students can shadow a company for a couple days, ask questions of a trained professional, talk to various people at that worksite and figure out what they do and what that role entails.
“If you do that enough times, you can get a feel for what they’re doing and if it’s something that you’re interested in,” Watson said. “A lot of times, that’s as easy as calling the company and finding out who would be the best person to talk to if you were interested in doing a job shadow.”
Another option is informational interviews, where students interview different professionals working in their future field to see if that is the way they want to use their skill set.
“I’ve had students do a lot of those if they weren’t ready to intern just yet because they weren’t quite sure of where they should go,” Watson explained. “They didn’t want to hop into an internship if they weren’t sure it was the right fit. From there, they can make an educated guess about where to intern or where to take the next step.”
According to Watson, students should give themselves plenty of time and start exploring options early. Deadlines for internships vary greatly, requiring prep work and early applications.
“Interning has more to do with your relationship to the company and the projects they assign to you.” –Romeal Watson, EWU Internship Coordinator
“If you’re just curious and starting looking, start at the beginning of the year to get a full scope of the different kinds of internships and their deadlines,” said Watson. “That’s something that happens a lot; an internship will come up and it’s perfect, but the deadline is tomorrow.” In the search process, Watson warns students to not be focused on big names. “Interning has more to do with your relationship to the company and the projects they assign to you.“
A lot of times people go for big names to help their resume, and it might attract another employer for recruitment purposes, but when you have to explain what you actually did, if it ain’t that much, that kind of hurts you as well,” said Watson. “It’s better to work with a company that is aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Internships are learning opportunities and will be placed on resumes, so making the most of them is as important as choosing the right organization or company. Watson described working with Anthony Suggs, a business major and film minor, who wanted to go into the film industry.
“We spent like one year submitting resumes to some of the big movie studios; he got a couple of callbacks, but nothing panned out, so we started looking local and found ‘Z Nation,’” explained Watson. “It was a chance for him to still get the behind-the-scenes experience without having to travel to LA and he could still use that as a platform for where he applies next year.”
Suggs was recently selected for a three-day conference on industry and will be applying to the major studios this year. A common problem facing EWU students is unpaid internships, which may force students to miss out on an opportunity. Students participating at internships at a non-profit or governmental agency can apply to the Krumble Foundation Internship Stipend Program, which offers a one-time stipend of $3,000 to juniors or seniors with a 2.5 GPA or better.
“That’s just one of the ways we are trying to make it easier for students to pursue internships that are not financially able to.” -Romeal Watson, EWU Internship Coordinator
“That’s just one of the ways we are trying to make it easier for students to pursue internships that are not financially able to,” said Watson. “They have jobs and they don’t want to quit their job to do an unpaid internship.”
The application can be found on the Career Services website.
Students can also search for internships on job boards like Handshake and Wayup, filtering for paid options. Watson stressed that when students are searching, don’t just do one thing-try job boards, Google and if a company looks interesting, contact them.
Of the 20% of the student population that complete internships every year, only 30%-40% of them utilize the resources offered by Watson and the Career Services office.
Students don’t have to make an appointment, but anyone looking to intern can connect with Career Services at any point in the process-a phone call, email or looking at the online instructions for how to set up an internship can all be helpful.
“My door is always open,” said Watson. “Phone calls work too, but I prefer one-on-ones to really dive in and show them some online resources.” •