‘Getting an Internship…I’m Still Trying to Find That,’ Asian-American Student Experiences Obtaining Engineering Internships

Internships can provide engineering students with financial support, practical experience, and motivation to complete degrees. The qualities employers seek in interns go beyond high grade point averages to include participation in campus organizations and technical societies, as well as leadership skills. Whether Asian and Asian-American (ASAM) students are aware of the importance of internships and the experiences they should seek to obtain internships is an interesting question. In the first year of a three year longitudinal ethnographic study to determine the factors that contribute to differential success among students from racial and ethnic minorities, we performed one to two hour semi-structured interviews of eighty ethnic and racial minority students in the College of Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. Participants were surveyed to obtain factual information related to their background and college experience. Twenty-one participants were ASAM. ASAM participants who had been offered internships in engineering or an undergraduate research assistantship had participated in technical societies related to their major or were heavily involved in campus activities. ASAM participants who applied for an internship, but were not offered one, had not participated in a technical society related to their major. Participants who had not applied for internships were not active in technical societies. Participation in the Asian American Student Association (AASA) does not help participants obtain an internship in the same way that participation in a technical society does. Our College has no Asian specific technical society, although we do have technical societies for other racial and ethnic minorities. None of the participants interviewed had a leadership role in any technical society, on-campus student organization or in AASA. Many of our ASAM participants are not seeking the campus experiences that will support the next phase in their career development, leading us to conclude that some ASAM students lack cultural capital.

Available from: APERA Website

Do, B., Y. Zhao, D. A. Trytten and A. W. Lowe (2006). ‘Getting an Internship…I’m Still Trying to Find That,’ Asian-American Student Experiences Obtaining Engineering Internships. Proceedings of 2006 Asia-Pacific Education Research Association Conference, Hong Kong.

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