Studies show that businesses are more likely to offer jobs to individuals who have interned for them, and interns who accept a permanent position from the company for which they’ve interned persist in that position on average five years. Kimberly Terrill, MA, director of career and professional development at Mount Saint Mary’s through the end of 2021, views internships and external work experiences as win-wins for both parties. They’re key to helping students acquire skills they can highlight on a resume to help them find employment. “They’re an important piece to a student’s career development,” she says.
A new program at Mount Saint Mary’s called Professional Experience Program (PEP) promotes career exploration and provides students with networking experiences through off-campus employment. PEP equips students with relevant skills and training that align with their majors and career aspirations. Through PEP, Terrill hoped to create business relationships so companies, organizations and agencies know what our students can do and who they are. “We’re creating a connection between the Mount and these employers,” she says, “so we have those connections for our students.”
PEP is funded by a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The Mount can apply monies from this grant to pay for students to work off campus through federal work study funding. Grant monies are awarded through the student’s financial aid with the specific dollar amount contingent on the individual student’s aid package. Aside from these details, the Department of Education has shared precious little information about the grant. “We do not have a stated dollar amount or any limitations,” says Crisalia Terrazas, graduate career assistant, career and professional development. The Mount’s director of student financing is currently obtaining more details about the grant.
Technically, PEP participants are not interns: Terrazas refers to PEP as an externship. Any student qualifying for work study can participate in the program. However, PEP is especially beneficial for low-income students who often have difficulty finding paid internships that align with their majors — particularly in psychology, sociology and nursing — putting them at a considerable disadvantage to their peers who can afford to not get paid while gaining experience in their fields. PEP participants earn $15 to $18 hourly and work about 15 hours per week. “It’s very important that PEP participants get paid,” says Terrazas.
The Mount, along with several other schools across the nation, received the three-year PEP grant in the fall of 2020. Terrill and Terrazas spent the following spring and summer creating a pilot program. Terrazas reached out to other PEP grant recipients searching for a template she could use to establish the Mount’s program. There were none, so MSMU launched the program from the ground up in the spring. The Department of Education offered a few guidelines, so “the Mount is leading the way in getting this program up and running,” says Terrill.
Terrazas reached out to businesses and alumnae she found on the Mount’s website to gauge their interest in participating in PEP. Ultimately, she forged partnerships with Koreatown Youth Community Center, which supports at-risk youth in Los Angeles, and Versant, a nonprofit that helps hospitals create environments in which nurses can thrive. Today, a Mount PEP program participant is working at each. “Everyone loves our program and what we hope to accomplish,” says Terrazas. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The ultimate goal is to place 50 to 100 Mount students in businesses and organizations at any given time, and businesses are allowed to employ multiple Mount students simultaneously. Now it’s just a matter of getting the word out about the program to Mount students.
The PEP student at Versant will work through the spring semester and get paid by the PEP grant. Brianna Nario '21, who is at KYCC, graduated in December with a degree in sociology. When her financial aid ran out upon graduation, she was no longer eligible to get paid through PEP, but she plans to continue her relationship with KYCC even without the stipend.
Although her stint in PEP was short, Nario realized significant benefits from the program. “It was an honor to get paid because the majority of internships were unpaid. PEP has opened my eyes and allowed me to explore a career path that I found interesting,” says Nario. Her primary function at KYCC is helping low- to moderate-income families realize refundable tax credits to strengthen their financial stability. “PEP participants are building professional skills, boosting confidence and gaining valuable experience.”
Organizations are eager to work with Mount students like Nario because they bring “compassion and a willingness to assist their communities,” says Terrazas. “They’re very caring and want to do their best for the community and get involved. That’s what they bring to the table.” Perhaps not surprisingly, both KYCC and Versant are run by Mount alumnae, who know “what our students are about,” says Terrazas. “These partnerships just feel right.”
Currently, there are 18 students interested in participating in PEP next fall and approximately the same number of matching organizations. The ultimate goal is to place 50 to 100 Mount students in businesses and organizations at any given time, and businesses are allowed to employ multiple Mount students simultaneously. Now it’s just a matter of getting the word out about the program to Mount students. “The funding is there,” says Tarrazas. “We just need the students.”