Pacific University’s Internship Program Is Connecting Students With Local Businesses

Internships are crucial in preparing students for life after college—and in a pandemic-stricken job landscape, it can be mutually beneficial.

Sponsored content presented by Pacific University College of Business

College, it’s said, prepares students to enter “the real world” after graduation. At Pacific University’s College of Business, the philosophy is, “Why wait?”

Sure, a degree can help graduates pry the door open on a career, only to have them run straight into the conundrum of “experience.” Many jobs require it, even for entry-level positions. But how does one get experience when you need experience to get experience?

Pacific University’s answer to that paradox? Internships.

Last year, the College of Business—the only business college headquartered in Oregon’s Washington County—inaugurated its Elite Corp Summer Internship program, placing students in business internships with local companies, nonprofits and other organizations. Students gain important skills that can’t necessarily be picked up in the classroom, not to mention a crucial notch on their resume, while also receiving direct mentorship from the sort of business leaders that’ll be hiring them out of college. What makes this internship program different? The program partners with local companies and even offers to pay students’ salaries through generous donor support at select small businesses and non-profits.

“The value is immeasurable for the student,” says Wanda Frazier, Director of Placement Services for the College of Business, who works directly with students to find the ideal internship. “Students who complete internships during their college career land jobs more quickly and have a tendency to be offered higher salaries upon graduation. These students, by gaining real ‘world of work’ experience, strengthen their understanding and competency within their field of study.”

Frazier says that while there is no “cookie cutter approach” to intern placement, the process typically begins by establishing the individual student’s business concentration—whether it’s marketing, accounting, finance, management or international business—and what they’re hoping to get out of the experience. From there, she educates them on how to maximize various job search platforms (“and I always suggest making Google their next best friend,” she says) and to set up job alerts.

For Shivani Patel, the revamped program came along at the perfect time. A marketing and management major, Patel wanted to confirm that she’d chosen the right career path through hands-on experience, but had been having difficulty finding an internship on her own due the pandemic, which shuttered offices and forced many businesses to adjust to remote working situations, leaving them unable to take on interns.

Working with Frazier, this past summer Patel ended up at Northwest Group Inc. in Tigard, which owns and operates over 40 Jack in the Box restaurants across Oregon and Washington. Her responsibilities ranged from calendaring vendor appointments and tracking equipment and inventory sheets to simply answering the phone. After a dizzying start, Patel’s confidence grew, and she came away with a more personal understanding of how the business world actually operates.

“At first, it seemed daunting, and I wasn’t sure if I was experienced enough to do it,” she says. “But with time and support, I was able to learn a lot. It was a fast paced environment, and I worked to keep up and pick up on information fast.”

Like Patel, business administration major Rebeca Garfias Mejía was also searching for an internship that would give her an up-close, hands-on look at her future career. Mejia’s only prior work experience was with her family’s business. But identifying her knowledge of social media and the community of Forest Grove, Frazier found Mejia an ideal spot at Forest Grove’s Chamber of Commerce.

Mejia ended up working on video and marketing projects highlighting local businesses, allowing her to put both her photography and social media acumen to use, while also developing new skills.

“It pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Mejia says. “I had to reach out to businesses by phone and we even went out in person and pitched this project to several businesses.”

Having launched during the pandemic, the Elite Corps program hasn’t just benefited students, but small businesses impacted by COVID-related employee shortages. Both Mejia and Patel were able to work in-person, and say they felt safe in their respective offices.

For Frazier, being able to give local businesses and organizations much-needed staffing assistance excites her nearly as much as helping the College of Business students.

“We were thrilled to be able to offer assistance to our business community,” she says, “as we recognized that many of them had been directly impacted by COVID restrictions, moving into a remote environment, and experiencing loss of employees.”