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Experience (Still) Required: Internships set SoHE students apart—even in a work-from-home world


Kohl's internship_home work station 2020
Home work station for one students remote internship.Preparing students for meaningful careers is arguably the most important role of a world-class university, and real-world experience is increasingly vital to that mission. In order to graduate, every SoHE major must complete 150 hours of professional work via a for-credit internship.Even without a global pandemic, internships can pose significant challenges—particularly if they are unpaid. When far from a student’s home, internships rack up additional cost-of-living expenses. They are completed as three-credit courses, which incurs tuition fees if taken in the summer. Additionally, for some students, internships can cut into hours for much-needed part-time jobs.

To meet these realities head-on, SoHE has worked with donors to financially support student internship. Since 2015, the SoHE Paid Internships Program has funded students working with community partners like the YWCA and the Community Immigration Law Clinic —14 employers in all. SoHE also created the Summer Internship Scholarship Program to offset anticipated costs.

Thanks mainly to donor funding—along with $25,000 from UW Summer Term—SoHE has today awarded interns $100,000+ through nearly 50 summer scholarships. Additionally, more than 70 percent of our students now have paid internships, and Dean Shim has pledged $400,000 to support internships over five years.

“The investment shows just how seriously we take this,” says Danielle Croegaert (BS Retailing 2010), SoHE’s Employer Relations Coordinator. “We’re committed to making sure that our students graduate with at least one solid professional experience to help them land postgraduate opportunities and begin their dream careers.”

Telecommuting for Credit

Last spring, as companies and schools scrambled to move online, SoHE students found their summer internships being cancelled. Salvaging those opportunities required moving work online—fast.

Employers were contacted with revised work plans, virtual tools were deployed, and for the first time in its history, SoHE approved online internships for credit. By the end of summer 2020, close to half of our students’ internships were completed online or in a hybrid model.

Even with that work to adapt internships, opportunities had dropped 38% from the previous summer. To offset the loss, SoHE collaborated with CALS, Letters & Science, and the School of Business to develop and launch virtual case study competitions. Twenty students leveraged the design thinking process and connected with alumni mentors to explore the future of work and education.

“You couldn’t touch the fabric or see the garment, so we all relied on the technical information. I was behind the computer, but I still learned so much.” — TAYLOR LAURI, X22, TEXTILES & FASHION DESIGN SUMMER INTERN

Taylor Lauri standing in front of a door wearing an orange dress with a floral print with her hand on her hip.
Taylor Lauri

Last year, Taylor Lauri received a SoHE Summer Scholarship for an unpaid internship at Maggie London, a women’s apparel company headquartered in NYC’s Garment District. “I imagined using the scholarship for train fees and lunches in the city,” she explains.

Instead, stay-at-home protocols found Lauri and her colleagues telecommuting. She spent the summer transforming designer illustrations into electronic “tech packs”—sets of highly detailed instructions for garment production.

The internship was Lauri’s second, and she is planning on a third to further explore the industry. “I just love fashion as a whole and would love to work in accessories, fabric or design. Definitely something on the creative side.”

In the meantime, Lauri has used the stay-at-home time to put her creative energies to work in another way: like a true human ecologist, she purchased supplies to sew face masks for family and friends.

“At the end of the day, it was the School of Human Ecology that provided me the opportunity to get where I am today.”

Alumnus, Desert Storm veteran and Board of Visitors member Trey Sprinkman used his GI Bill to attend UW–Madison after eight years in the Army, including service as a combat engineer attached to the 317th Engineer Battalion.

Though internships weren’t then required, he wanted a way to enhance his degree, and his internship with Oneida Medical (now GE Healthcare Systems) converted upon graduation to a career position he’d hold for the next eleven years.

When Sprinkman began championing SoHE’s work to help today’s interns, his focus was on nonprofits: “They want interns, they need them, but they have no means to pay them. So, I felt it would be great if we could help these students gain real-world experience while contributing in the nonprofit sector.”

Sprinkman joined with other Board of Visitors members in 2017 to create the SoHE Golf Scramble and raise $25,000 per year to fund paid nonprofit internships. In just three years, the initiative has raised more than $100,000.