The School of Nutrition and Food Sciences offers a multidisciplinary and practical curriculum, training students in the quality, processing and safety of foods for the multibillion-dollar food industry and preparing them to help people improve their health and well-being. Intentionally and proactively weaving real-world experience with higher education greatly benefits students. The internship experience not only has proven to be a powerful career enhancer but also has a significant effect on subsequent academic performance.
In 2016, the school’s internship program was re-energized and aligned to the expanding internship program offered through the College of Agriculture. To assess students’ exposure to and decision-making about internships, a benchmark needs assessment was conducted. Results showed that 90% of students believed that an internship would be helpful for their future careers, and 65% planned to do an internship before graduation. Despite the optimistic data showing that students were on board with the internship program, only 22% were working or had worked as an intern.
Student motivation to take an internship was also evaluated. Results showed that 73% of the students are looking for private industry internship opportunities. Sixty-nine percent require the internship to be a paid opportunity while 23% would accept volunteer positions. Summer is the most preferred time of year for students to complete an internship, and most prefer the position to be close by.
In the past three years, the school and college have identified approximately 70 opportunities targeting nutrition and food sciences students, most of which were paid, private industry summer positions. The faculty liaison in the school worked relentlessly on sharing these resources with specific groups of students to enhance proper placement. During this process, communication was crucial. The challenge was how to get the right opportunities to the right students because so many other things on campus compete for their attention.
A multifaceted communication strategy was applied. Job descriptions were shared in nutrition and food science classes. For positions with specific duties, such as a food safety intern, the job descriptions were shared with faculty advisors and then passed to students with specific skill sets. Emails, flyers, Twitter and the Food Science Club Facebook page have all been used.
Since the school started the internship program, students as well as employers have provided feedback. Students demonstrated many good qualities, such as increasing knowledge and technical skills, clear and effective communication, being a team player and leadership. Some companies provided housing for the students; some offered full-time job opportunities, and some asked for more student interns. The program is ongoing.
Wenqing Xu, assistant professor, is the consumer food safety specialist and faculty liaison for internships in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences.
(This article appears in the fall 2019 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)