Davidson's means of helping students find internships has been recognized as exemplary by a national association of collegiate career services professionals. Ashley Neff, assistant director of the Center for Career Development, managed the college's "100 Internship Challenge" in school year 2011-2012, and the initiative won the "Members' Choice Award" at the recent annual conference of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
Vincent Benjamin '04, a member of the Davidson Alumni Board, suggested about two years ago that Davidson's Center for Career Development should follow the lead of the college's successful Annual Fund by challenging alumni, parents and friends to "raise" internships for Davidson students. Benjamin branded the initiative the "100 Internship Challenge" to set a numerical goal, and worked with the center's staff to develop effective outreach strategies.
Hired to the staff in March 2011, Neff took on management of the initiative. It ended up topping its goal that first year because, Neff said, "The Davidson community really wanted to help."
She continued, "There are a lot of alumni and families out there who want to support students' career development, but didn't know how. We just gave them a specific opportunity, and they responded enthusiastically."
The first year's recruitment drive netted 120 volunteers posting internships, and -renamed as the "Davidson Internship Challenge" in its second year- the program grew in 2012-2013 to 141 internships. More than 60 percent of the internships posted resulted in actual internships for Davidson students.
The success of the program prompted Neff and her colleagues to nominate it for the new NACE "Members' Choice Award," the organization's only award voted on by the membership. The NACE Awards Committee selected five schools as finalists, and the 8,000 members of the organization had the opportunity to cast a vote for their program of choice. Entries were judged on program need/objectives, relevance to target market, integration, design and use of medium, creativity, innovation, outcomes, and ease of replication.
The other four nominees were New York University, UNC Chapel Hill, New York Institute of Technology, and the University of Toronto-Mississauga. Their programs included an international social media campaign, a creative career fair prep program and another internship initiative.
Neff and other Center for Career Development staff were elated at the annual awards ceremony when Davidson was announced as the winner. Instead of attending the award night celebration, Neff received the winner's plaque, posed for official photos, then had to rush back to her hotel room to take care of her 10-month-old son she brought along to the conference! "The plaque for the office and recognition for Davidson is good enough reward!" Neff said.
Neff acknowledged that it's not unusual for collegiate career offices to ask alumni to help students obtain internships. Davidson stood out, she believes, by couching the effort in a challenge to alumni, parents and friends. In addition, Davidson made it possible for alumni of all ages and at all stages of their careers to join the challenge by specifically suggesting three ways they can help. "You don't have to be a CEO with hiring power to participate," Neff explained.
The three ways were:
1) Serving as a resource for students applying for the internship program at their organization through actions such as answering questions about their experience, reviewing a resume and helping students prepare for an interview.
2) Taking an active role in facilitating Davidson student applications through the internship host's selection process by answering questions about the strength of a Davidson education, or encouraging the corporate human resources department to interview at Davidson.
3) Creating or helping to arrange an internship specifically for a Davidson student.
Neff thanked her six office colleagues, the Alumni Board of Directors and other campus offices for help with the program. Members of the alumni and college relations staff talked about the internship challenge during their visits with donors. The alumni office assisted with efforts to advertise the program in cities that most interested student participants, like Atlanta and New York. And when President Carol Quillen mentioned the program in an email to all alumni, Neff said "My phone was ringing off of the hook for a couple of weeks!"
Neff noted that internships are the single most important way for employers to identify future employees, and for Davidson students to explore career options.
NACE research shows that new graduates who have completed at least one internship during their undergraduate education are significantly more likely to receive job offers than those with no internship experience.
This summer wraps up year two of the Davidson Internship Challenge. Neff said year three will set a higher numerical goal, and the challenge may be based on class years, creating an additional basis for competition.
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