Internships and Mentoring Set up Students for Career Success

CSUSM Students Justin Leonard and Shelby Bus CSUSM economics majors Shelby Bus and Justin Leonard interned at Noble Americas Energy Solutions this past fall.

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If you major in nursing, chances are that you plan to pursue a career in the healthcare industry. And if you study accountancy or marketing, there’s a high probability that you know you want a job in business. But what about those students who are studying the liberal arts, such as history, anthropology, economics, music, philosophy or women’s studies – fields where the direct professional link may be more blurred or uncertain?

In January a new report on earnings and long-term career paths for college graduates with various undergraduate majors was released by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. The study found that while humanities and social science majors make slightly less upon entering the job market, at their peak earning ages they actually make slightly more than those who majored in profession-specific programs.

“Majoring in a liberal arts field can and does lead to successful and remunerative careers in a wide array of professions,” commented AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider.

College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences (CHABSS) Dean Adam Shapiro couldn’t agree more. In fact the College’s Career Readiness Initiative (CRI) was founded one year ago in an effort to make the pathways from the classroom to the workplace even more clear for CHABSS students. 

“Our College has a strong academic foundation rooted in the values and traditions of the liberal arts," said Shapiro. "The Career Readiness Initiative aims to add even more value to what we are already offering, ensuring that students have the best launch pad for the future.”

“For students in the liberal arts, the career opportunities are ample but internships and mentoring are critical,” said CRI Faculty Director Katherine Brown. “An internship can help a student see the practical applications of his or her major, and mentoring with career professionals can help clarify what he or she wants to do after graduation.”

Internships Give Students Critical Workplace Skills

One of the best ways for students to prepare to make the jump from student to professional is to secure an internship and a mentor while still in college. This past fall semester, two CSUSM seniors majoring in economics—Justin Leonard and Shelby Bush—interned at Noble Americas Energy Solutions, a top retail energy supplier with an office located in downtown San Diego.  The internship was the first one to be officially facilitated by CRI, and represents the importance of industry-academy relationships to thoughtfully and purposefully nurture student learning.

As customer care interns, Justin and Shelby helped with data reconciliation and “true ups”—industry jargon for reconciling end-of-period invoices for clients.

“I’m finally seeing how the concepts and principles that I’m learning in my upper-division classes—such as real-time markets and forward pricing—are put into practice in the real world, ” said Shelby, who plans to graduate this spring.

Suzanne Shumate, the customer billing manager at Noble Solutions, acknowledged that the typical pathway to her department is usually a degree in finance, accounting or statistics; but she said that even more important than “book experience” is finding interns and employees with the professional “soft skills”—those who are hardworking, attentive to detail and have not only the ability to think quantitatively but have excellent communication skills too.

“Being highly organized and flexible is vital,” she said. “Potential interns and employees also need to know how to think critically, troubleshoot problems and remain positive. And of course we look for those with an interest in our industry and who have a desire to learn the business.”

According to CHABSS Dean Adam Shapiro, these soft skills are grounded in the curriculum of the college.

"Students majoring in the liberal arts learn to think critically and problem solve. They understand diverse communities and cultures and value teamwork," he said. "While our programs and classes may not explicitly focus on a particular profession, our graduates leave CSUSM attuned to the diversity of human experience and responsive to new ideas and challenges.”

Mentoring: An Important Complement to Coursework and Internships

In addition to getting hands-on career training, Justin and Shelby were matched with employee mentors at Noble Solutions, individuals who help provide additional perspective on corporate culture and business etiquette, not to mention job coaching.

“It’s a win-win situation for Noble Solutions: our mentees get partnered with someone they can always go to for informal advice, feedback and encouragement, while our mentors get an opportunity to be a leader and give back by sharing their knowledge and experience,” said Shumate. Noble Solutions also offers “lunch and learns” for its employees, casual midday meetings that foster learning and growth by focusing on different topics related to the industry or company.

Ultimately, the goal of the Career Readiness Initiative is to prepare more students like Justin and Shelby for their professional lives once they leave Cal State San Marcos. This spring semester CRI lined up 14 mentors who have been matched with students based on career interests. Brown says that the College is actively seeking others who are either interested in providing internships to liberal arts majors or providing advice through the mentoring program.

“Working relationships like the one we have with Noble Solutions help strengthen the college-wide culture of career readiness, help students who are seeking high quality internship sites, and help affiliated organizations learn more about the strengths of our CHABSS students and programs,” said Brown. “As we grow our initiative, we look forward to an increasing number of services, courses, panels, workshops, and events available to strengthen students’ preparation to be competitive for internship opportunities.” 

And as for Shelby and Justin, they both agree that their experience at Noble Solutions has helped provide a stronger launch pad into the future.

“I want all of my fellow students to have this opportunity,” said Shelby. “My time at Noble Solutions has been an amazing chance to grow professionally.”

“I couldn’t have asked for a better internship experience,” said Justin. “I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time.”

Shelby and Justin both agree that their experience at Noble Solutions has helped provide a stronger launch pad into the future.

“I want all of my fellow students to have this opportunity,” said Shelby. “My time at Noble Solutions has been an amazing chance to grow professionally.”

“I couldn’t have asked for a better internship experience,” said Justin. “I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time.”