Professional Fellowship Programs Are More Than Just High Paying Jobs

For the past three years, the Student Government Association (SGA) and the College have contributed to funding professional internships for juniors and seniors on campus. These internships, which are some of the highest paying jobs for students on campus, received significantly more funding ($80,000) for the 2011-2012 school year.

In 2009, the SGA devoted $5,000 to increasing the amount of paid jobs for students on campus. Soon after, Director of Career Development Dana Van Abbema became involved with the project. Van Abbema described the project as more than just increasing jobs for students, saying the idea was to have, “A program to solve two needs on campus. One was the additional need for employment opportunities for students on campus to get professional experience as well as help pay for their education. The other need was that there were a lot of offices on campus who experienced reductions in staffing due to economic changes of the last five years or so.”

The school provided an additional $25,000 to give the Professional Fellowship Program (PFP) a total budget of $30,000. But before money could be spent, the logistics of how the project would work needed to be sorted out. Van Abbema decided to base the program loosely off of a program at the University of Northern Iowa. The program involved selecting departments for the program through a competitive application process.

Offices and departments at SMCM had to submit a proposal that described the student position they wanted to provide. A committee then decided which departments would receive funding. The departments chosen then had control over which student would fill the position. In 2009, there were 15 positions and each student was paid $15,000 apiece. For this year, 28 (out of 32 applicants and including sustainability fellows) positions were filled with each student getting paid $2,800.

When explaining why only junior and seniors are considered for this, Van Abbema explained, “We want students who have some institutional history so that they are going to be in a better position to assist offices and to assist other students.” She also said, “We wanted to view these as capstone employment opportunities.” She also said it could be possible for sophomores to be considered in the future.

However, one hope is that students already working in departments will be considered for these positions. Because of this, positions would open up for First or Second years who want to work. Van Abbema even said, “There are even a couple of offices with PFP’s that we didn’t advertise.” This is because departments already knew who they wanted to fill a position. Van Abbema also expressed a desire not to waste anyone’s time, saying about one particular fellow, “It made sense to slide her in that position as opposed to opening it to other students, having them spending time to apply only for it to ultimately go to the original student anyway.”

Students have had positive reactions to their PFPs. One former fellow, Danny Green, explained that his experience was valuable to him, saying, “My PFP experience allowed me to gain insight into the College from an entirely different perspective.  Having the opportunity to have my byline on articles distributed to thousands of people is certainly something that I am grateful for.  The skills and relationships I developed during my experience will surely be beneficial as I transition into the professional world.”

One important difference between this year and previous years is that departments will have to report on how successful their program was.  But the program has completed its main goals over the past couple of years of filling department positions by giving students jobs. Van Abbema said, “I think it’s great, the whole thing really grew out of students’ ideas”

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