Wednesday, December 19

Selby Kia: UCLA should partner with corporations to provide student internships

(Juliette Le Saint/Daily Bruin)

(Juliette Le Saint/Daily Bruin)

The coming of spring brings more than blooming flowers and looming graduation dates. Spring means internship season – the daunting process of Bruins finding, applying and narrowing down how they will spend their summer.

Many students visit the UCLA Career Center or attend a Hire UCLA Fair looking for internships but get overwhelmed with seemingly endless possibilities and don’t know how to proceed. Even internships alone won’t help. A Career Center survey found that among students in the class of 2016 who self reported whether or not they did an internship, 21 percent of those who completed internships were still seeking employment after graduation, in comparison to 30 percent of students who didn’t complete internships seeking employment after graduation.

It’s obvious students need help finding jobs. In order to address this need, UCLA should collaborate with corporations in an effort to alleviate this stress of entering into the workforce. By forming such partnerships in which the companies provide services to students based on needs outlined in student-drafted contracts, students can transition smoothly into the workforce and find a reliable means of employment after college.

At UCLA, the Career Center is the main source for students regarding internships. Wesley Thorne, director of the Career Center, said the closest thing UCLA has to a corporate partnership program is the UCLA Office of Corporate, Foundation and Research Relations. This office is meant to inform employers and offer a large pool of students to corporations for hire and increase awareness of company brands within the UCLA community.

While such an office sounds important for student-corporation relations, most students have never even heard of it. It lacks student involvement and does not include any binding contracts with companies. If anything, the office seems to benefit the companies more than UCLA.

Other efforts to liaison corporations with the university include the School of Theater, Film and Television internship programs; Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science industry partnerships by discipline; Partnership UCLA and a number of research partnerships that focus more on public benefit than anything else.

While these programs are useful, they only cater to a small fraction of undergraduates. UCLA lacks a centralized, university-wide partnership program that does not merely “give companies access to UCLA’s world-class student population,” but also pushes them to hire UCLA students and guarantees a definitive number of paid internships and scholarships. And none of the school’s current programs have a platform in which students voice their opinions on the partnerships.

In other words, UCLA lacks organized, incentivized partnerships with corporations that have direct benefits for both students and the school.

It’s definitely possible, though – Berkeley’s University Partnership Program provides a solid example. The program develops proposals with potential business partners who seek to collaborate with the university to engage potential hires.

Partnerships consist of contracts with corporations including Brita, Sungevity, Bank of the West, Under Armour and Peet’s Coffee. The companies receive better publicity and product placement on UC Berkeley’s campus and events. In return, they provide paid student internships, jobs for graduates, financial support and other student-requested services.

Solly Fulp, executive director of UPP, said the program has fostered a culture of more cross-campus collaboration.

“It requires a lot of trust to say we’re going to relinquish our power for the greater good and make sure this benefits the university first,” Fulp said.

Students draft the contracts and determine how much potential collaborators contribute. And students can get a lot of out it. Berkeley’s partnership with Bank of the West offers students at least two 10-week summer internships per year through 2025. In 2016, some students were paid $18.75 per hour – amounting to $7,500 per internship. The agreement also gives merit-based scholarships to students with financial need, supports student services such as the food pantry and offers preferred pricing and rewards for students who have accounts with Bank of the West.

It may seem like these kinds of partnerships threaten the school’s integrity and run the risk of the companies unethically profiting and overreaching the scope of their influence on the school. However, these relationships directly benefit student interests, with increased business as the main benefit for companies. Aaron Smyth, a graduate representative of the program, says that the UPP is not “privatizing” the university in any way but leveraging commercial activity that would take place regardless.

Fulp said students were initially hesitant because they had never really been allowed to make decisions regarding the campus’ corporate partnerships before. The UPP program, however, has changed that.

“You can have a perfect program, but if students don’t know about it, it doesn’t make a difference,” said Amy Gardner, director of project affairs for the program. As Gardner later added, one of the best ways to keep students in the loop is to directly involve them in the program itself.

UCLA should use Berkeley’s program as a starting point to find industries that match its own values and form a committee to implement a similar program. This would help address the underlying problems of students having difficulty finding jobs upon graduation and enable them to find meaningful internships with a greater guarantee of employment.

Sure, this change would require UCLA overhaul some of the Career Center’s services. However, other UCs are already implementing a similar system to Berkeley’s. UC Davis has already started the UC Davis Preferred Partnership Program, partnering with Peet’s and Java City for the campus coffee supply. Such a program would not privatize the university or diminish the efforts of the Career Center. Rather, it would maximize UCLA’s own brand and expand opportunities campuswide.

Graduating from UCLA is the achievement of a lifetime for many. But the campus should help those students begin their lives like Bruins in the real world as well.

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Opinion columnist

Kia is an Opinion columnist.

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