When she graduates in December 2016, UM-Flint Communication Studies major Skye Whitcomb will be leaving the university with knowledge of her discipline and the memory of a life-changing internship experience.
Her department began requiring internships for all students in Fall 2016. "The faculty of Communication Studies require internships of our majors because we believe that it is important for students to apply what they are learning in their classes to their careers after they graduate," said Communication Studies Chair, Marcus Paroske. "We think students should learn by doing as much as possible."
A Meaningful Internship
Tony McGill, the department's internship coordinator, contacted Whitcomb with exciting news during her senior year. He had found her a unique 10-week position funded through the General Motors (GM) Student Corps Program in which she would be working with ten Flint Southwestern Classical Academy students and two GM retirees.
"The Student Corps Program was started in GM by one of my past communication students now at GM," said McGill. "The program accomplishes an amazing amount of positive change within communities and GM's contribution is significant."
"The intern's work is both physically and mentally difficult and they apply the leadership, management, public relations, and problem-solving skills they learned, " continued McGill. "The interns manage budgets, payroll, and employment records for the students who are GM employees during the 10-week project. The interns are also responsible for setting up media interviews and media coverage."
The program provides significant funding to the high school students so they can complete meaningful projects. "The students chose what community and school projects they wanted to do and then we planned them," remembered Whitcomb. "We worked on the playground at Broome Park, projects at Berston Field House, library floors, a new mural, and the tennis court at the high school. The retirees and I showed the students how to complete these different tasks since they hadn't done them before."
Whitcomb connected with the Southwestern students by sharing her life experiences and involving them in charity work. Said Whitcomb, "I really enjoyed taking the students to my farm and opening their eyes to agriculture and farming. Also working with the students to encourage that they save money, and working with the United Way to donate $10,000 to the Flint Child Health & Development Fund, which was matched by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for $20,000."
Whitcomb captured the group's activities in photographs—both a requirement of the internship and one of her personal hobbies. At the end of the internship she and some of the students decorated a board at their high school to showcase their summer of hard work.
When asked what surprised her about the internship experience, Whitcomb responded, "How much I bonded with the students. I also learned so many things to take to my professional career. Working with such an age range, high school students and two GM retirees, I think really prepared me for many different types of people I may have to work with in a future job." She also noted that learning to facilitate conversation between the two groups was a significant takeaway from the experience.
The bond between intern and the high school students also surprised Dr. McGill: "One notable thing I did not really expect when we started the program was that the interns also serve as role models for the students who often don't get to personally know working college students or see themselves as college students. They often grow very close and form longtime friendships."
The lessons learned during Whitcomb's internship are exactly why the UM-Flint Communication Studies department has moved toward requiring internships for their students. Said Dr. McGill, "I find the GM Student Corps internship to be like many of our Communication Studies internships, if the interns are willing to work hard and learn, it can be a major experiential stepping stone for them, a networking opportunity, and an important entry on their résumé. Honestly though, this one is special to me because I get to watch them grow and apply what they have learned."
Choosing UM-Flint Communication
Whitcomb originally chose UM-Flint Communication as her major after researching career interests and the associated degrees. And she appreciated that the campus was close to home.
"Every class I was in, I was intrigued. I also enjoyed many of my fellow classmates, and my teachers made coming to class awesome and something I looked forward to," recalled Whitcomb. "The professors were always so willing to help the students with anything and were always wanting what was best for us. This was the right choice for me because I found the jobs that were associated with the degree were where I wanted to work for my life career."
Whitcomb is looking forward to graduation, and has advice for the UM-Flint Communication Studies students who are following in her footsteps: "Take advantage of everything that is offered to you. Get involved in clubs and get to know your professors. Make connections, and spend time researching and looking for an internship that is right for you and where you want to go with your future career. I believe that an internship is necessary, helpful, and will give you the experience you cannot get in a classroom."