By Anne Elliott
Megan Fortin, 21, is working as an intern at Fairhaven Middle School as well as taking 24 credits at Whatcom Community College this quarter. One credit comes from helping out in 7th grade social studies and English classes for 10 hours per week through Whatcom’s Cooperative Education Program.
“I could have chosen to take it for three [credits] due to the amount of hours I work there each week, but I chose one since I was already at 23, and since I’m a paraeducator on the school district payroll, I only wanted the one credit to show my scholastic involvement,” Fortin said.
Whatcom’s Cooperative Education/Internships Specialist Jan Adams, said that the number of credits awarded is based on the number of hours a student works at their interning site. One credit is awarded for working three to four hours per week, while up to five credits are awarded for 15-20 hours, she said.
Credit levels are also determined by the student intern’s course level. Adams said that Co-op 180 is for students who need help getting placed into an internship, while Co-op 190 students have an internship position already established.
While work study positions get filled during the fall, internships are often left unfilled throughout the school year, Adams said.
Work study is a financial aid program where students work part-time through school to ear money, while internships are a separate academic program, said Adams.
“When possible, we have blended them so that a student can have a paid internship…that is only when the work study position is career-relevant,” she said. “Currently we’ve spent the money for the Work Study Program this year,” she added.
In the past, students have interned in paralegal offices, various classroom settings, and many businesses around Bellingham. Current Whatcom student Irina Bliznyuk works as an intern in accounting at Logos Bible Software downtown.
Adams said that students work together with faculty and their internship supervisor to design a specific learning contract, which becomes their curriculum for the quarter once it is approved by the college. “Students also keep a journal to track the flow of their daily learning,” she said.
Internships are available in a variety of subjects such as computer science, visual communications, paralegal, film and media, and technology.
“They really range across the curriculum,” Adams said. She added that students can also build their own internship, based on their major. “There really is no limit in terms of what a student can do,” she said.
Adams said employers from outside businesses may request a Whatcom intern by filling out a job description form, which can be downloaded from the internship website, http://faculty.whatcom.ctc.edu/jadams/internships.htm. Job descriptions will then be posted on the website, and interested students are screened for the position, she added.
Fortin said she is happy to be getting real-life experience in education. “There’s only so much you can learn sitting in a chair,” she said. “I find it very important while I’m learning to be working in the field doing hands-on things.”
Adams said that students with internship experience transition from college into a career in their field faster than other graduates might.
“Seventy percent of interns are more likely to be hired as full-time employees versus non-interns,” Adams said. “Most jobs currently require three to four internships minimally.”
Adams said that the Cooperative Education/Internships Program’s motto is based on the ancient Chinese proverb that says, “Tell me, I will forget; show me, I will remember; involve me, I will understand.”
“That’s why internships are so valuable,” Adams said. “They help students reassess their own skills and values. They do mock interviews, build resumes, network . . . they are assessing the workplace for what they like and don’t like, to get a feel for what they like before they graduate.”
Fortin said that during her internship at Fairhaven Middle School she has discovered that she would like to teach middle school students.
“I’ve learned how to inspire curiosity in the middle school mind, and how to teach them to be self-educators, and take responsibility for their own education,” Fortin said.
Adams said universities often take into account the work that a student has done in an internship when accepting students.
“They’ve worked at that career. They know more than the average student about that topic,” Adams said.
Adams’ office is located in the Advising Office at Whatcom. She is available to students by appointment, which can be scheduled at the main advising desk, located in the front of Laidlaw 116.
“I have been doing this for a very long time, and I’m still excited about it,” Adams said. “I never stop learning, and I never stop learning about learning.”
Students have until the sixth week of each quarter to get involved with the program, said Adams.