Experience that Counts
Victoria Luera, a nutrition major at The University of Texas at Austin, has jumped into so many internship opportunities as an undergraduate that her resumé is already overflowing. She has operated the kitchen at Burnet Middle School, worked in several hospitals and clinics assessing patient nutrition, created nutrient handouts and classes for seniors, counseled patients with diabetes in clinics and created interventions for foster youth.
“I got great hands-on training that I couldn’t get in the classroom and observed enough of others working with clients that I could adopt my own style of counseling,” Luera says.
When students participate in the internship programs that are integral to the School of Human Ecology, they benefit in immeasurable ways by expanding their skillset. And Luera isn’t alone.
Carla Cos conducted meal monitoring for Head Start programs and taught a cooking class to preschoolers. Public health major Kristan Schiele analyzed juvenile delinquency data and demonstrated how a community youth development program improved outcomes for teens. William Vasquez repaired dozens of walkers after noticing how long the waitlist for them was at a Central Texas organization that serves the elderly. Jackie Bruni designed window displays on The Drag for the University Co-op featuring its latest merchandise. Nelson Gonzalez, another public health major, monitored obesity and physical fitness data in a group of children from the community where he grew up.
“Hundreds of students have had the chance to have authentic, real-world internships in public health alone,” says Leanne Field, director of the School’s public health program. “The experiences have changed their lives.”
The School of Human Ecology offers a plethora of experiential learning opportunities – from research presentations to video-making to lab experiences to community initiatives. Still, internships play a central role, as students get to apply the words absorbed from textbooks to real-world situations and problems. These programs have been part of the undergraduate curriculum for at least 40 years. In fact, some current faculty mentors benefitted from experiential learning when they were UT students: Monica Meadows (Nutritional Sciences) completed 900 hours of supervised practice in dietetics in an internship in 1994, and Nancy Prideaux (Textiles and Apparel) learned the art of retail as part of a buying team when she was a student.
“The program really has the same footprint as it did in 1981,” says Prideaux. “Rich education happens by doing, and I learned so much about tenacity and hard decision-making in fashion retail.”
Faculty mentor and guide students in each program, from the application process through completion of a job or research project. The internship program includes coursework, seminars and research papers in addition to work in the community. The experience is intense.
Because it is so important to prepare for future jobs and education, the School’s internship programs are blossoming. More than 300 undergraduates participate in internships each year, whether in retail, fashion design, public health, community-based agencies, early childhood education, dietetics or another related area. These students leave UT Austin prepared for their future.
“One of my favorite things is to watch the students’ faces change when I ask them to remember their first time with a client and compare that with how much they have learned,” Meadows says.
Alumni agree. According to Heather White de Lodeiro, now a fashion industry vice president, “My internship at W Magazine in New York turned into my first professional job and set me on my career path.”