Rural Internship Program
Today employers in business and industry seek to hire workers who have both technical expertise as demonstrated by college courses and degrees and technical experience in the workplace; but college science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs are often challenged as to how to provide this required workplace experience for students. Internships and coop experiences have long been one solution to bridging this gap; however, rural colleges with widely dispersed and economically disadvantaged student bodies with low educational attainment rates have found that many students are unable to participate in traditional internship programs. To address the shortage of internship opportunities, Klamath Community College (KCC) in rural south central Oregon is enhancing the job readiness of students in the Computer Engineering Technology and Digital Media and Design associate degree programs through virtual and peer-to-peer internships in addition to traditional, one-on-one internships. Faculty members will collaborate with businesses and industry to create and evaluate three different models to provide options for students to participate in work-based educational experiences. As a result, graduates will be better-prepared and ready to enter the technician workforce. The program encompasses a potential to benefit society by providing a model for other rural colleges with similar economic and labor market conditions. Nationwide, of the 860 publically controlled community college districts, 553 (64%) are rural community colleges with a total annual student enrollment of 3.4 million. Students and businesses served by these colleges will benefit from a flexible approach to internship development. The advanced technological education programs at the college will gain exposure through active relationships with businesses in the community. Increased awareness about college programs and the availability of a highly-qualified applicant pool will attract new businesses and spur economic development.
The project approach will provide flexibility to students and businesses. Virtual internships will connect students in remote locations, where many courses are delivered via synchronous classrooms, with local businesses and industry employers. The long-standing lack of access to opportunities due to geographic distances will be resolved. Use of the Internet is the primary means of communications, which saves students from traveling long distances of up to 180 miles round trip per day. Peer-to-peer internships provide a creative, cost-saving solution for smaller businesses that can offer valuable work-site experience but are unable to dedicate staff time to constantly train new interns. Businesses will utilize graduates from the college who have worked as interns prior to becoming an employee to subsequently train the next student interns. Participation in traditional, one-on-one internships will be available to students living in close proximity to the college and the worksite. Through this program, the number of employers directly undertaking the training and supervision of the interns in an actual work-site environment will be increased. All three internship models will bridge classroom education and application of technical skills through on-the-job training. Students will build their resume by listing recent work history and job references in occupational fields related to their academic degrees. Businesses will be able to vet potential job applicants. A positive experience will lead to paid employment with participating businesses and improve student employability. College faculty will be exposed to the workforce needs and technology requirements of local businesses. Curriculum development will be shaped to ensure that the college is teaching the most relevant job skills and that students are well-prepared to obtain employment. A comprehensive summative evaluation is planned to determine the success (and factors of success) of each of the internship models for students, the college, and employers as well as a formative evaluation to make recommendations for modifications as the project progresses.