“It’s an academic program," Nunamaker said. "So the purpose is to engage that student in their own field to give them exposure to what they’re studying.”
Nunamaker said when the program started in the spring of 2012, there were 20 students who participated. This year there are over 1,000 students.
“If you look at the university as not just an institute of higher learning, but as an organization — a living, breathing organization — we have professionals working on campus that represent pretty much every major on campus,” he said.
Students are paid during their internships, and receive a pass or no-pass grade on their transcript — although the internship does not include class credit hours.
“We have nine competencies that we’re hoping students secure upon graduation,” Nunamaker said. “Communication, collaboration, leadership, self-awareness, integrity and ethics, brand, adaptability, analytical skills and technology.”
Nunamaker said those competencies are assessed throughout the students’ internships and evaluated by site coordinators that visit internship sites.
Chen said a drawback of a program like Clemson’s is that students might not branch out beyond their previous notions of career goals.
“(It) might give them tunnel vision or they might not be as open to different opportunities that they might think they’re not that interested in but might end up loving,” Chen said.
Chen said on-campus employment gives students a different perspective on how a university works behind the scenes, and a program like UPIC could help this.
“I spend 10 hours a week at my job," she said. "So that is a significant portion of my time and it would be really great for students to be able to use that time to not only support themselves financially but to do something that’s a really big resume booster as well, and some networking and getting contacts in that field.”
Gary Alan Miller, director of UNC's University Career Services, said a program like UPIC at Clemson is not necessarily off the table for UNC.
“There are some dominoes that need to fall in making something like that happen, but there’s always an interest among folks here at Carolina on how we can give students the best experience possible,” he said.
Nunamaker said the program is still new enough that it is difficult to make hard statements, but it appears students who participate in internships are more likely to graduate.
“Students who go through an internship experience are 20 percent more likely to have a job offer after graduation,” he said.
The UPIC program provides 50 percent of student interns’ salaries, and the other half is provided by the department they intern for. The South Carolina state government provides $1 million to the program each year.
“We’re operating on a budget of under $1.5 million,” Nunamaker said. “To duplicate this you’re going to need over $2 million.”