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Taylor Knoblock, Collin College

Collin College created virtual internships to provide the learning experiences that occur with real employer interactions for students whose schedules or budgets do not allow for traditional internships.

“Most of our students have to work to put food on the table,” explained Ann Beheler, NISGTC principal investigator. For these employed adults the challenges involved in scheduling a low-pay or unpaid temporary internship around job or family responsibilities can be an insurmountable hurdle.

For the virtual internships, instructor Cope Crisson organized the students in his Advanced CCNA Case Study course into teams. “They were given the requirements of a pro forma company’s network needs—basically a request for proposals. Working in teams, they had to design a network that would meet the requirements, build a prototype using lab equipment and simulator software, document their design, and present the design,” Crisson said.

Periodically during the 16-week semester the students interacted with an actual IT employer via a webinar tool. During these virtual meetings with their mentor, Tu Huynh, vice president of IT at Comerica Bank, the students reported on their progress, discussed difficulties and received guidance. In addition to these formal interactions, the students corresponded with the mentor via email and phone calls.

"The virtual internship helped quite a bit with my current job, as it was a good model for the types of environments I’d be working on at my current job."

At the end of the semester the students presented their project in-person to the mentor, members of the NISGTC Business and Industry Leadership Team, and faculty.

“The virtual internship helped quite a bit with my current job, as it was a good model for the types of environments I’d be working on at my current job,” said Taylor Knoblock. When he graduated in 2013 with an associate degree, he was hired as a network engineer by a healthcare IT firm. His salary was immediately $15,000 higher than the $40,000 per year he had been making, and he reported in 2015 that he had received additional raises more recently.

Reflecting on the virtual internship experience, Knoblock said the interactions with the mentor expanded his thinking and the end-of-the-semester presentation helped him learn the appropriate terminology to use when making sales pitches.

Crisson has found that the virtual internships have been similarly valuable for other students, and he plans to continue incorporating them in the advanced course in the future.