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Survey Notes College's Hands-On Learning

 Survey Notes College's Hands-On Learning

01/17/2012 

When students graduate from SUNY Cortland, there’s a good chance they’re entering the job market with relevant work experience, according to a report released by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

By their senior year, 73 percent of SUNY Cortland students who were surveyed had participated in a form of hands-on learning, whether it was through an internship, clinical assignment or field experience. By comparison, 50 percent of fourth-year students surveyed at 672 other institutions shared a similar hands-on experience.

“Students are getting information about internships pretty early on now,” said John Shirley, the College’s director of career services and the coordinator for internships and volunteer programs. “The job market said, ‘Experience is a must-have.’ So the earlier students can start, the better.”

A slumping economy has SUNY Cortland students looking to get ahead with their post-graduate plans. Students in any class year can earn course credit, ranging from one-half to 16 credit hours, depending on the time commitment to the learning experience. Shirley said a campus policy was amended recently to allow first-year students in their second semester to pursue internships.

Lee Ann Mazzarisi ’11, a communication studies major from Westchester, N.Y., pursued her first internship with the College’s Health Promotion Office when she was a sophomore. She added two more campus experiences to her resumé — one with Speak magazine and another with the Lynne Parks ’68 SUNY Cortland Alumni House — and landed a job with fashion giant Tommy Hilfiger this past summer.

“Without my internships, I wouldn’t have been able to get my foot in the door,” said Mazzarisi, who works as an executive assistant to the company’s vice president for men’s design. “I don’t think I’d have the confidence or the experience.”

She was proud of her grade point average in college but the topic never came up in her interview with the clothing designer’s vice president.

“Just getting good grades isn’t enough,” Mazzarisi said. “The one thing that I was told stood out about me was my experience.”

SUNY Cortland students have secured high-visibility internships with UNICEF, the Smithsonian Institute and ESPN in the past. Sometimes, they leave New York state for competitive opportunities.

“If you can think of something you want to do, you can probably make it happen,” Shirley said.

Kayleigh Caswell, a junior childhood education major from Webster, N.Y., aspires to be a special education teacher when she graduates. In the fall, however, she decided to pursue an internship outside of her field to develop an important skill that her future career will require.

Caswell worked with the Disney College Program at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., to build confidence working with children. A shy student when she entered college, Caswell said the internship turned her into an outgoing person.

“Before the internship, if you made me go into a restaurant with people I didn’t know, I might not have ordered food for myself,” she said. “I wasn’t one to talk to strangers. I thought Disney would be a great opportunity to open up and see what’s out there and it was.”

Each year, SUNY Cortland’s Career Services staff helps 340 to 400 students like Caswell find the perfect internship. And that number doesn’t include student teachers, students whose major requires an internship or practicum experience, or students who participate in research projects.

“College students everywhere hear about the importance of internships from their professors and their family members,” Shirley said. “But the hands-on learning component is something we place an added emphasis on (at SUNY Cortland).

“We want our students to graduate with pre-professional experience and use that experience confidently in any career they pursue.”