Turning Interns Into Employees

Internship fairs

 When Kathleen Barnes '09 landed an internship at Magic Hat Brewing Company during her senior year at Champlain, it was a dream come true. Still, when a full-time position opened up at the Burlington-based craft brewer toward the end of her internship, the company tapped a more experienced person to fill the role.

Some three years later, when Barnes heard that Alan Newman, the cofounder of Magic Hat, was starting a new craft beer operation called Alchemy and Science, she successfully applied for the communications specialist position.

"We were impressed with Kat when she interned with Magic Hat a few years back. And she had taken the intervening years to strengthen a skill set in social media and public relations that was exactly what we were looking for. It was an easy hire," said Newman, who is a fixture in the Burlington craft beer scene with his trademark yellow glasses.

A 2009 PR graduate, Barnes had indeed been building her skill set. She'd worked in digital and social media marketing for the maker of Choose Your Own Adventure Books in Waitsfield, Vermont, in the Champlain College Office of Advancement, and then at the marketing communications firm Kelliher Samets Volk (KSV) in Burlington. "In each position I've taken since graduation, I've been able to add more and more tools to my tool belt," Barnes said.

As important as her expanded skill set was, Barnes said the connections and skills gained from her Magic Hat internship were absolutely critical to landing her current job at Alchemy and Science. "I maintained a relationship with [Magic Hat cofounders] Alan [Newman] and Stacey [Steinmetz] and I have a lot of friends that still work at Magic Hat. Every step I've taken since that internship has taken me to where I am right now," said Barnes, whose new job includes promoting the beer brands that Newman and company are developing, including House of Shandy Beer Company and Angel City Brewery.

As Champlain professors and administrators continue to embrace real-world experience for students, they are creating unprecedented demand for Champlain interns. At this October's campus internship fair, about 60 Burlington-area employers came looking for student talent.

National Life, the Montpelier-based insurance company, is one of Champlain's top recruiters. Mike Beaulieu '11, a Business graduate, is one Champlain grad who successfully parlayed an internship experience into a full-time job at the firm. Beaulieu, a 29-year-old Army National Guard veteran, met a National Life recruiter when he was running the Handsome Potato food cart on Church Street. Once he got in the door, he went above and beyond the call of duty, met as many people as possible, and eventually landed his current role of internal sales associate. "Champlain played a major role in me getting a job here, because it focused on being practical in the workforce and not just learning out of a book," said Beaulieu.

Real-World Experiences

Students in all four Champlain academic divisions are eager to step into real-world work environments. Of the seniors who responded to a 2012 pre-graduation survey, 71 percent indicated that they had held "career-relevant" internships or part-time jobs during their senior year.

More than ever, those interns are using the skills they've developed at Champlain to extend and transform their temporary or part-time work experiences into full-time jobs. More than 50 percent of seniors questioned in the survey said that interning with their current employer had given them a leg up on securing a full-time job.

Barnes credited the real-world experience she gained at Champlain-especially through in-class projects with local businesses that she said gave her legitimacy when interviewing with Magic Hat-with helping her land her current job. Still, getting ahead requires drive and determination, especially in a tough job market. "Champlain provides you with the tools to get a job and to be successful, but how you use those tools is what really matters," said Barnes.

Champlain students are showing real tenacity in pursuing their desired careers. Among 2011 Communication & Creative Media grads surveyed by Career Services, 70 percent are employed in a job somewhat or very related to career goals. In the Education & Human Studies division-and also in the Business division-that number reached 94 percent.

Because it is a professionally focused school, Champlain's community, not just Career Services, but also professors, deans, and alumni, has a clear mission and clear goals to rally around. In August, Assistant VP of Career Services Sarah Potter and the Champlain Career Services staff presented their annual career report at a College-wide town hall meeting.

At most schools, the event would have been a cloistered activity, run almost entirely by Career Services staff. But that wasn't the case at Champlain. "There was full engagement. This wasn't just a thing for Career Services," said Potter. "We all have an investment in the career success of our students."

Champlain's real-world focus has given the school something of a reputation. "I am a fan of Champlain-they seem to be teaching useful skills for the modern world-with a focus on how to execute them in the real world," Newman said.

Producing Work-Ready Grads

Work-ready Champlain grads are attracting attention not only from employers like Newman, but also from the State. About six months ago, the Shumlin administration created the Office of Creative Economy to help facilitate job growth in creative fields like advertising, software development, and marketing.

"It's important to be identifying and growing those parts of the economy, not only because they're high-paying, but because it's a demographic of professionals that's important to keep here in the state," said Joe Bookchin, director of the new office. According to the most recent Champlain employment report, 55 percent of the class of 2011 stayed in Vermont after graduation, up from 49 percent in 2009.

Bookchin and his team are working with Champlain's Career Services department to facilitate closer connections with gaming companies, particularly those in Montreal. With Champlain's help, Bookchin believes Vermont could become another hotbed for game development, benefiting from the high salaries and educated workforce the industry brings with it.

Of course, not everyone stays in Vermont. Some industries demand that Champlain graduates leave the state in search of good jobs.

In the emerging field of digital forensics, for example, the Washington, D.C., area is ground zero for job opportunities. Even though 2012 Champlain grad Megan Percy took advantage of multiple Vermont-based internship opportunities with the Vermont Department of State's Attorneys and with the College's Leahy Center for Digital Investigation, she took a full-time job as a cybersecurity forensic analyst with defense contractor TASC, Inc., in Chantilly, Virginia.

Percy said there is huge demand for forensic examiners, particularly because the field is still so new, and there aren't many people who have degrees in the field. "Anytime there's a crime on a computer, a cell phone, or a digital camera, there's digital evidence. We're the people who go in, find it, and make sure it never happens again," said Percy.

A self-described people person, Percy said she plans to eventually get into the management side of digital forensics by pursuing her online MBA degree at Champlain. The program offers a specialization in Digital Forensics.

Percy said Champlain started prepping her for work the day she stepped onto campus in her first year. That level of preparation-coupled with the quality of the school's program in digital forensics-gives her great confidence in her classmates. "In a couple of years, if I'm in charge of hiring, they'll all be from Champlain," she said.

Real-world experience and engaged professors give Champlain students an undeniable edge in the marketplace. "The difference between Champlain Game Design students and those coming from art school is that Champlain students are already work-ready. They're not expecting a big amount of training," said Daphne Walker, assistant director of Career Services at Champlain.

Caitlin Pierce '09 (at right) agreed. "Anyone I've spoken to in the professional world about Champlain has only glowing things to say," said Pierce. "[Champlain grads] come in and have the skills, and it's just sort of giving them guidance instead of fully training them. You don't have to baby them," she said.

Caitlin PierceA marketer at White River Junction-based consulting firm Resource Systems Group (RSG), Pierce said she felt completely prepared to enter the job market when she graduated three years ago. Unlike Barnes and Percy, Pierce didn't intern with her current employer, but rather started off working for RSG on a part-time basis doing administrative work.

Now she runs RSG's Burlington office and serves as the assistant to the new marketing director. She also writes a fashion blog called Wore Out, www.woreoutblog.com, that she started two years ago to "document the challenges of being a fashion-forward individual in icy Burlington." Now she's hoping to hire a Champlain intern to help produce content for the blog and take it to the next level.

A Cycle of Grads Hiring Grads

Champlain grads hiring other Champlain grads is a growing trend. Take the experience of Liz Muroski and Alicia DiMartini. In 2009, Muroski transferred to Champlain from the University of New Hampshire. She's from Hinesburg, Vermont, and when she decided that she wanted to study PR, she looked to Champlain because of its great reputation.

At her first internship at a company called ThoughtFaucet, Muroski planned local social media and web analytics events. By networking in the community, she heard about People Making Good (PMG) PR and its founder, Nicole Ravlin.

With resume and interviewing help from the Career Services office, Muroski landed a fall internship at PMG that "was unlike any that I'd ever heard about.

"This wasn't one to come to and get a cup of coffee or fetch lunch. On the first day, we were writing and pitching and contacting media. They threw us right in," she said.

Muroski graduated in December 2011 without a job offer. But she accepted some freelance assignments with PMG and eventually came on full-time this past April. She now manages relationships with clients like Rare Tea Republic, Walkers Shortbread Ltd., and Boloco.

Alicia DiMartini is another Champlain alum who leveraged her senior year internship into a full-time job at PMG after graduating in 2009. In fact, she hired Muroski through the company internship program that she co-manages.

Though DiMartini said PMG recruits from St. Michael's College, the University of Vermont, Champlain, and all throughout New England, they "have good luck at Champlain-the interns always seem very prepared in terms of looking for career experience and building their portfolio. Champlain is also excellent at getting students acquainted with social media." DiMartini and Muroski agree that that sets them apart in the job market.

"Branding yourself in the right way online and through social media would be a top priority for students about to graduate. Social media is part of PR, and it's what we do every day," said Muroski.

She also recommends developing close relationships with professors at Champlain like Nancy Kerr, who often have connections with area businesses, and can offer advice and support. Professors including Rob Williams, Nancy Kerr, Eric Ronis, and Jim Ellefson have also helped encourage more alumni interaction, said DiMartini. And their facility with social media has helped create an ever-stronger network of alums-in Burlington and beyond.

It's that cycle coming back around again. Champlain's engagement begins on campus from the moment students arrive. And it continues as they first enter the workforce as interns, and then again as full-time employees.

(This story first appeared in the Fall 2012 Champlain View)

Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Canada, and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain and over 90 residential undergraduate and online undergraduate and graduate degree programs and certificates. Champlain's distinctive career-driven approach to higher education embodies the notion that true learning occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 384 Colleges: 2019 Edition. For the fourth year in a row, Champlain was named a "Most Innovative School" in the North by U.S. News & World Report's 2019 "America's Best Colleges,” and a “Best Value School” and is ranked in the top 100 “Regional Universities of the North” and in the top 25 for “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” Champlain is also featured in the Fiske Guide to Colleges for 2019 as one of the "best and most interesting schools" in the United States, Canada and Great Britain and is a 2019 College of Distinction. For more information, visit champlain.edu.