Teaching & Learning Champions 15: Impact of Service Learning and Internships on Guided Pathways
July 23, 2020
Today on Teaching & Learning Champions, we’re joined by Sam Greer, Director, Employer Outreach & Experiential Learning Programs. We’re talking about the impact of Service Learning and Internships on Guided Pathways.
Thanks for listening to TLC @ ACC!
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[Matthew Evins:] Welcome to another episode of Teaching & Learning Champions. I’m Matt Evins, Director of Instructional Technology and Digital Resources in the Teaching & Learning Excellence Division at ACC. Today I’m joined by Sam Greer, Director of Employer Outreach and Experiential Learning Programs, as we talk about the impact of service learning and internships on Guided Pathways. Sam, thank you for joining me today.
[Sam Greer:] Happy to be here!
[Matthew Evins:] Wonderful! So let’s go ahead and get started. And for those listeners who are not familiar with your office or your team or what you guys do, tell us a little bit about the goals and missions of your department.
[Sam Greer:] Sure, Matt. Oh, yeah, which is the Office of Experiential Learning, is part of TLED, the Teaching & Learning Excellence Division, meaning that we’re faculty support. So we do not work directly with students necessarily. Instead, we work directly with faculty. We also, as my title implies, I am a director of employer outreach, so I work directly with several hundred employers to engage them directly with our department. And so the goals and missions of my area are to — for internships we have a 100% placement, knock wood, for the last eight semesters for all ACC students who have registered for their departmental internship practicum. So instead — at ACC our internship program is governed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. And so these internships are for credit. They are in classes. We also have continuing ed students as well. But they are actually registered in classes and then we assist them with finding vetted positions. So we make sure that they’re not, you know, walking around west like putting pliers on doorknobs or having cold call lists or anything. It’s actually directly relevant to their major. And then the other — on service learning, service learning is a curriculum device where the entire class is placed with — for an assignment with a nonprofit or government agency for the semester to work on a project. And these are included inside the curriculum of that class and are actually on the syllabus. So those are two of the areas that we support. I also assist with — I assist the Dean and Department Chairs in health sciences involving clinical placement, so I assist them with hospitals and other clinics. Once I find them, I turn it over to them. We don’t actually mess with the students. And then also I assist and oversee with apprenticeship efforts throughout the college.
[Matthew Evins:] Well, it certainly sounds like you have your hands full.
[Sam Greer:] I do!
[Matthew Evins:] So let’s, you know, we’ll talk about both internships and service learning, but let’s start with the internships. Tell us a little bit about how internship placements work within ACC.
[Sam Greer:] We have, I think, the best developed and most robust system potentially in the country for placing our interns. I’m the director, and then I also have an internship coordinator, Kathryn Naughton, who actually runs the — she works directly with the faculty to help place the students. We have a very sophisticated outreach mechanism that, well, this week for example, we started recruiting for the fall semester. And we have a master list of about 700 employers who have indicated that they are interested in ever hiring an ACC intern. You don’t have to do it every semester. There’s no obligation. But yeah, just keep us on the list. Ask — ping us every semester and let us, you know, and ask if we’d like to do that. So we have hundreds of employers in the city of Austin who we have vetted to make sure, again, that these are appropriate placements and that they adhere to federal labor laws and those sorts of things. So we have a long list of — a checklist for them. And we send it out to them and say now who among you is interested in having an intern this fall semester 2020. That’s what we sent out on Tuesday of this week. And then they have a form that they fill out. It’s part of our — it was developed internally, a sales force customer management system and customer relations management. And that comes in and the job description and the contact information is placed in our database. We discern which departments are the best fit for that. Some of them we already know. It’s a jobber programmer, of course it’s going to computer studies. But we have others that could be anywhere from communications to management or any number of things. So we might put them on multiple lists. Then those go into each departmental practicums’ active opportunity list. And so let’s say that the class has 20 students who have registered for the class. We need to make sure that there are at least, you know, 25, 30 opportunities on that list for that class. And we have, you know, in a small semester we have about 25 different departments and a big one will have as many as 39 departments and programs that are running these classes. And so we have to fill all of those. We have to make sure that every one of those classes have a sufficient number of appropriate placements. And once we have that, it’s the professors’ list. Then they review it. They compare the opportunities with the enrollment in their class to make sure, because some have specializations, you know, in computer studies for example, a networking student cannot take a programming position. That’s not their specialization. So we have to make sure we work closely with faculty and make sure that the list works. And that’s for every department. Then we also, once the semester is going, if we have a student who is having trouble, for whatever reason, finding a placement, we have an emergency placement system where the professor has to complete an additional form to explain why the student is having trouble, and also we need to know where they already applied so that we don’t contact that company again. But it could be something as simple as the student doesn’t have a car and they have to have something on a bus line and that the manufacturing facilities that we found for that particular major there are no bus lines available, so we have to find something that’s more appropriate for them. And so we do. And again, so for the last eight semesters, knock wood, we have had 100% placement rate. That was difficult this summer, as you can imagine, because the entire city practically shut down.
[Matthew Evins:] Sure.
[Sam Greer:] So anyway, that’s how the internship process works. And frankly, it has thus far worked very, very well.
[Matthew Evins:] And so you said that you had, you know, a 100% placement over the last eight semesters. What does that look like in terms of raw numbers? How many different courses or individual students are placed each semester?
[Sam Greer:] We typically, we typically work with about 25 to 30 different classes. Each department has one internship practicum. It’s the capstone class of that major. So communications has one class. Accounting has one class. Computer studies. So that makes it — that’s a lot easier for Kathryn, the Internship Coordinator, she only has one faculty member per department per semester to work with, which is different than service learning which I’ll tell you about later. So she only has about, you know, 30-some-odd faculty that she has to train and work with at any given point. However, on a typical year, and we’ve been building this up tremendously in the last three years since we started this program, we typically have about 700 students per year who run through these programs. However, it’s increasing every single semester. And we are looking at a — like most aspects of the college — we’re looking at a tremendous surge because of the recession. Now it’s going to be more important than ever to have something on your resume. About 65% of our positions are paid. We ask for $15 an hour. And there are just some majors that do not pay. And there’s some residual at the bottom of many different majors that are unpaid positions. And this is one of those situations that not everybody gets to be an astronaut. Sorry! And the A students get the paid positions and the C students may have to take what’s at the bottom. But I really do work very hard to work with employers to convert these to paid positions because I explain that they’re going to get, you know, if they want our highest, you know, the highest quality they’re going to have to pay money.
[Matthew Evins:] Right. Wonderful! Let’s shift gears for a second and talk about the service learning program. Tell us a little bit about how that works at the college.
[Sam Greer:] Well, service learning, we’ve always had some variation of service learning, but until last year it was very informal. It was basically sort of community — it could be just community service that you wrote a paper about and there was nothing organized about it in any way, shape, or form. I hired a new service learning coordinator at the beginning of 2019 and we have transformed it. My goal is to make it an national model analogous to our internship program. So now we have Sabrina Groves
[phonetic] is our Service Learning Coordinator, and she has a Masters degree in service learning from the University of Michigan, and she’s a dynamo when it comes to working out the details. She developed a conference and training program. She’s actually going to have a summer institute next week for another 36 faculty to get them trained and certified in service learning. And the goal is, is that the service learning, again, there are, it is an external learning function of the college. It’s not in the classroom but it’s related to the classroom, and it’s directly integrated into the syllabus of each class. And it’s instrumental in getting students out into the real world. There are deliverables and measureables. There are external stakeholders that the students are responsible for. It could be the director of the nonprofit, you know, or a state agency, for example. And the students have various functions that they have to fill as they’re, you know, just like they were an employee, depending on what the project is. However, these are all unpaid and it’s a maximum of 19 hours for the semester, whereas an internship is those — I did not mention this. An internship is — those hours are defined by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and they are typically a couple hundred hours a semester. So service learning is a much lower hourly requirement. But it’s the entire class working on a group project together for an external entity. I made the decision to not include, at this point, for profit entities. So we’re just working with nonprofits and government agencies for the time being, although I could make an exception to that if we have a specific request, I suppose.
[Matthew Evins:] Perfect! And I know we talked a little bit about numbers for internship partners. What do the numbers look like for service learning?
[Sam Greer:] When we started this at the beginning of 2019, there were a total — a total — of six faculty in the entire college who were doing any sort of service learning. So as you can see, it was really a moribund initiative for the college and had not gone anywhere, which is why we hired a new coordinator. As of now, we’re going to have about — in the fall we’re anticipating about 60, so a 10-fold increase in the number of faculty. And they’ve all been trained and certified in this curriculum and exactly how it can be utilized and integrated into their curriculum. So it’s a three-day service learning summer institute. And actually I think she also had something online that going over the course of the next six weeks or so. So it’s a pretty comprehensive training. I think last spring we had about 15 sections. So you know, just the law of averages I’d say, you know, we had maybe 250 to 300 students who participated last spring. The goal is that we’re going to have hundreds, even thousands of students who are doing service learning and getting them out into the community. But it’s a new program, so we’re still just building it up. So we’re anticipating about maybe 50 sections in the fall.
[Matthew Evins:] OK. That’s a pretty good number.
[Sam Greer:] I think so! I’m proud of Kathryn.
[Matthew Evins:] Yeah. It sounds like your whole team is doing a fantastic job.
[Sam Greer:] Hey! You know, keeping the training running, buddy!
[Matthew Evins:] Let’s talk about internships and service learning on a broader scale. And for the sake of this question we’ll lump them both together. But how have internships and the service learning opportunities changed or adapted based on the college’s adoption of the Guided Pathways model?
[Sam Greer:] That is a great question. At first I didn’t think much of it, but it has transformed my end of the business, I’m going to tell you. For one thing, we have now converted internships. We’re really defined it. Before I was assigned to this position by Dr. Rhodes and Dr. Cook about, oh, four years ago I guess, and it really started in earnest about three years ago, internships were very vaguely defined. And as you can see, service learning was too even more so. That it was just whatever. You know, you could work for Uncle Fred and write a paper about it, but you’re really just partying on the Green Belt and swimming in Barton Springs all day. There were no guidelines, no standards of any kind. Once we adapted Guided Pathways and I fully integrated internships into that, it became a capstone. This now becomes the lure at the end of the Guided Pathway. It is that transitional point between your academic and your employment. The way that ACC runs our internship program, it is THE last academic function of the college. It is not the first employment function. That’s the way some colleges do it. Ours is part of the college. And so it is the final pull point for those workforce development programs. We’re also — I’m working with the deans of the academic transfer programs and we are really developing internships and co-ops is what they’re called in that area — a co-op is an internship that has a concurrent lecture component every week and — that’s much more conducive if you’re, you know, working in history or some such. They have that plus we might get you something — we haven’t done this yet — but in a museum or something. But those are the discussions that we have on the table. So this is, it was the adoption of the Guided Pathways that has really developed these universal standards around internships that we have been able to do, and it has increased the standards of our programs tremendously. And we now have an extremely strong brand across the city of Austin and we guard it. To get into an internship class you have to have department chair approval, so you can just be a second semester computer student if you’re trying to get a job or program position. This is something that is reserved for the last semester. And I’ve in Mary Kohls’s office when she refused a student the opportunity to — no, you’re not ready yet. I want you to take this class, and if you make a B in it, then we’ll discuss getting that internship position for you for the fall. So internships are now very much included in Guided Pathways. Service learning is integrated into it as well. Service learning is really a curriculum tool that is built into any, can be built into any program. Health Sciences has a bunch, you know, dentistry and things like that, dental assistant’s program, where they go out and they work routinely in the public in their area of study. So it is directly relevant to their major. But service learning is one that is not a capstone. It’s a tool within the major. And so it will have the same exact courses that can either be service learning or not service learning. We’re getting a flag so we’re going to be flagging certain courses as service learning. The students will know that there is an external learning component of that class. And so we don’t have any issues about transportation or nobody told me this or such. But what we’re anticipating are that we’re going to get a certain type of student who are very attracted to that and want to have these real world experiences built into their Guided Pathway.
[Matthew Evins:] OK. So especially with service learning you guys have gone through a lot of growing in the last couple of years to expand it as much as you have. What types of feedback have you gotten on both service learning and internships from faculty or students on, you know, how it’s helped them or how it’s assisted through the Guided Pathways model? What type of feedback have you gotten on these programs?
[Sam Greer:] It’s fantastic. We have gotten nothing but positive feedback across the boards. There are numerous department chairs who just said frankly they would not do the internships if we were not handling the employer recruitment and all of the other organization that’s involved in that. We also developed a — well, I did — the software, I mean the internship agreement that is required for all placement. And that activates the college insurance at the place of employment. But it also, it’s put in a database that we can track everybody and we know exactly, you know, we now have, for the first time really accurate data. So if, you know, the president or provost asks me for some data, I can give it to them about those placements. And service learning people, you know, faculty are fascinated with it because the ones who are interested are just overjoyed that they have this support now. And some of the things that they do, one of the services we provide is we are interested in, you know, doing something with elderly people in Austin and we have this, you know, we would like to record their life stories and then have them written up, you know, via creative writing or whatever. And can you help us do that? Well, we did that and we reached out to City of Austin, to Conley-Guerrero Civic Center in East Austin that’s across the street from the East View Campus. They have a senior citizen, you know, what is it? An activity center where the folks drop in during the day. And so we have a class who is assigned over there, and they go over and they have, you know, are extremely welcome because these older folks love having the interaction with our students. And they record their life stories and write it up. And now we’re talking about potentially doing cross-referencing with RTF and having — and doing video recordings of that and then, of course, giving the recordings to the senior citizens so they can take them. They can give them out to their grandkids, and you know, here’s your — the life story of your grandpa, things like that. And so we do the outreach and find out, you know, we have a biology class and we line something up with Texas Parks and Wildlife to go and do river readings on the Colorado River, you know, the LTRA, one or the other, where they could do, you know, chemical analysis of the river below the dams and things like that. We do the outreach for that. I make those phone calls and call the, you know, I find — once we find out what the professors want to do, we help them do it. So the professors have been extremely happy with having this outreach tool. Because, frankly, this is not within their area of specialization. It takes an awful lot to maintain a network like our office maintains. And that’s a lot of time. So professors generally don’t like to screw with that. So it has been extremely well received. And so we, yeah, we get nothing but applause when we’re discussing this with deans and department chairs and faculty.
[Matthew Evins:] So you know, obviously there’s been a lot going on, you know, for as small of a staff as your department has. You certainly provide a very significant service for students as well as faculty. What is coming down the pipeline in terms of upcoming initiatives or enhancements to internships and service learning?
[Sam Greer:] Well, you know, for better or for worse, life is changing for all of us right now, as you can see. I’m sitting in my study at home. We are having to really investigate more virtual internships. And when we started discussing this with companies, virtual internships are different, inherently different than in-person. When a student is sitting there in, you know, a manufacturing facility, for example, they can have managers just stop by and assign them projects. Whereas for an intern remotely, they typically have to be assigned the entire project at once and it’ll have a deadline. And so these become what are called in our trade, micro internships. These are smaller bite-sized projects that are inherently different than sitting in an office setting the entire time. This is more akin to contract work. And so we’re having to negotiate that with both employers, and also our faculty and students are not yet accustomed to that. So this is going to — we’re all going to have to adapt to this over the course of time. And so this is something new for us that is giving me some heartburn. Service learning is even more problematic with that. I mean we do have some that we have opportunities that are online. But typically as, well, given the example of the senior citizens at Conley-Guerro Senior Activity Center, you need to be face to face with those people. And you know, or going, you know, how do you take readings of, you know, to do chemical analysis of the Colorado River below the Lady Bird Lake Dam if you can’t go there? So those are issues that we’re having to address as well. And we’re still new enough here, I’m meaning into the pandemic, that we’re still learning. So we don’t know and we don’t know how long this is going to last or we don’t know — so we don’t — so employers are hesitant to do any permanent changes. So those are, you know, that is something, you know, big in my current inbox. On the happier side, we have recently done all sorts of automation. That’s how we’re able to run such a vast program with so few people. And so we are very effectively automated with that. We are still adding more programs. For example, in the fall semester we’re adding fashion design and journalism internship programs. And so we’re actively recruiting there today. And so we’re constantly adding more. We are adding — one thing that we are looking at is a five-fold — yes, you heard that right — five-fold increase in the number of information technology placements over the course of the next 24 months. Part of that is because we’re adding a new Bachelor’s degree in computer programming. Also we are adding — we have added or are in the process of adding an IT apprenticeship program of 350 students. Continuing ed is converting many of their IT programs to level one certificates, which would include an internship component because they get a tremendous amount of additional funding for that. But also it gives, you know, credence to the program and an advantage to the students. And that’s in addition to just a natural increase of our computer studies program, our credit program, that has been growing tremendously over the last five years but is going to be growing more now because the economic downturn. You’re going to have lots of waiters and bartenders who are going to say, you know, I need another way to make a living. I’m going to go back to ACC and study computers. So we are looking at a huge increase in the number of placement, in our placement requirements for — and that’s just one area of study. You know, we have, again, that’s one department. We have, you know, 25 to 35 different departments and programs that we help every semester. So I have gray hair for a reason.
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[Matthew Evins:] I mean it could be worse, I’m sure.
[Sam Greer:] Oh sure. Well, I mean the thing is I had very competent staff and also I feel very supported above me. My ABP and vice president and provost have been extremely supportive of everything that we’ve done. And I have a very collaborative relationship with the other AVP’s whose areas I serve, Gretchen Riehl in Workforce and Gaye Lynn Scott in Academic Transfer. So they have been very supportive of all of this. I work closely with all of the deans and department chairs. And then Kathryn works directly with faculty for internships, and Sabrina works directly with them for service learning.
[Matthew Evins:] Great. Well, Sam, I want to thank you for your time today. But before I let you go, is there anything, since it is almost the end of the week, is there anything that’s giving you River Bat Pride this week?
[Sam Greer:] I have great news, Matt! This week my office received a national award. It’s at the Salesforce Higher Education Institute and we won the award for, what is it, institutional efficiency. And the other finalists were University of Florida and Butler University. But our office and in combination with the ACC IT Salesforce Development Team won this award for our internship management program, which includes the database of all of the, that the employer opportunities are registered in, and it is directly linked with our internship agreement so we can tell — and it’s also linked with colleagues so we can tell all of the students in the class, who have registered for the class, and who has been placed where, and have they completed their internship agreement. And once they have that, we of course have all of the information about the company within them. And those are, even before you get there, those are linked to the opportunity list so we can see exactly, you know, which of the opportunities were filled, who filled it, etc. So it is an absolute treasure trove of data that we’re going to be able to pour through for years to come. And of course it builds on itself sequentially. And I was proud of it. I had the, you know, I came up with some of the initial ideas. But it was really — and developed the proceeding system that was horribly labor intensive and inefficient. So that’s my credit. And then Kathryn actually worked with the team and she did a fantastic job. So I really give kudos to Kathryn and that team for getting this. But it’s a very impressive system and it impressed the executives at Salesforce who thought that it was the — one of the best systems that they had created in the nation. So wooo! River Rat Pride!
[Matthew Evins:] Excellent! Yeah, that’s a lot to be prideful for and congratulations to you and your team.
[Sam Greer:] All right! Well, thanks!
[Matthew Evins:] Well, thank you very much, Sam. Appreciate your time today. And that wraps up another episode of Teaching & Learning Champions. Don’t forget you can view blog posts for each episode on the TLED website. I also encourage you to subscribe to the ACC
District podcasts and any of your preferred podcast apps or listen to individual episodes on the TLED website. Thank you for tuning in and we’ll chat next time on TLC at ACC.
[Sam Greer:] Thanks, Matt!
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