Founded in fall 2016, the Center for Pathway Experiences offers students a scholarship opportunity until March 1, 2017.
Director of Pathway Experiences April Gonzalez said pathway experiences are internships (both on and off-campus), fieldwork, research or other activities that provide students with experience related to their chosen discipline and to the student’s post- graduation goals.
“To apply for the Pathway Scholarship Fund, students must be a full-time undergraduate student enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi at the time that the internship, fieldwork or other pathway experience takes place,” Gonzalez said. “Additionally, the pathway opportunity must be a minimum of 8 weeks of full-time (35-40 hours per week) off-campus experience.”
The application for the Pathway Scholarship Fund is provided on the center’s website. The website offers information on grant eligibility, resources for faculty and staff, student appointment request forms and information about finding a pathway experience or internship.
The program wants to encourage undergraduate students at USM to pursue internship, fieldwork and other pathway opportunities and to eliminate barriers for students wishing to pursue opportunities, according to Gonzalez.
Students who receive a scholarship will receive a stipend to help support them through the experience and may request additional funds to cover financial hardships – travel reimbursement for flights to and from site of experience or assistance with housing costs, according to Gonzalez.
Director of Quality Enhancement Julie Howdeshell said the annual cost for the pathways program is $210,000.
“$50,000 of this is dedicated to student scholarships to participate in pathway experiences, and another $50,000 has been allocated for grants for initiatives at the college or departmental level to support student pathway experiences,” Howdeshell said. “Additional student initiatives will be rolled out later, including pathway graduation cords for students.”
Howdeshell said the Center for Pathway Experiences provides a much needed concentration on increasing the number of undergraduate students participating in internships and fieldwork.
“Currently, about half of our undergraduate students complete pathway experiences before graduation,” Howdeshell said. “The university wants students to know that participation in a pathway experience is important and that they have a place to go to for help in applying for and participating in internship opportunities.”
The program is unique in that it offers competitive scholarships to support participation and provides grants to academic departments to develop unique programs that meet the needs of that discipline of study, according to Howdeshell.
Gonzalez said employers and graduate school admissions councils value experience related to the student’s chosen field when hiring or accepting into a graduate program.
“Pathway opportunities are a way for students at Southern Miss to stand out from their competition both internally at the university as well as other externally from other applicants,” Gonzalez said. “According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2016 survey of employers, over 90 percent – 64 percent related and 27 percent any experience – of respondents stated that they value work experience when reviewing an entry-level candidate’s qualifications for a position.”
Every 10 years, as part of reaffirmation of accreditation with Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOCS), USM develops a new quality enhancement plan. The Office of SACS-Quality Enhancement developed The Center for Pathway Experiences based off of a multi-phase process established and implemented by the QEP Topic Selection Task Force over the course of the 2013-14 academic year, according to Howdeshell.
“The process was designed to ensure opportunity for input from a wide range of constituents, including faculty, staff, students, administrators, alumni and members of the university community,” Howdeshell said. “Specifically, this included an open-ended call for topics, a call for proposals and a call for feedback. The process also included an examination of assessment data, evidence of need at Southern Miss and alignment with the university’s mission.”
The Office of SACS-Quality Enhancement Programs oversees the planning, implementation and reporting of the University’s Quality Enhancement Plan according to accreditation guidelines and requirements established by the SACSCOC and in collaboration with university governing bodies, faculty, staff and students, according to Howdeshell.
“The department serves as the administrative umbrella for the initiatives of the SACS-designated Quality Enhancement Plan,” Howdeshell said. “In addition, the department works with the Office of the Provost and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness to ensure the university is in compliance with SACSCOC accreditation requirements.”
After the Quality Enhancement Plan was approved by SACSCOC, the university chose Gonzalez after a national search as the center’s director.
“I have 16 years of experience in higher education within both public and private universities,” Gonzalez said. “My education qualifications include a Master of Education in College Student Personnel from The Ohio University and a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies from Maryville College in Maryville, Tenn.”
Gonzalez’ experience includes serving as Career Consultant to the College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee; Knoxville Associate Director, Employer Connection Programs and Assistant Director; Business Career Advisor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte and Career Counselor at Philadelphia University.
“While at UNC Charlotte, I oversaw the Experiential Learning Program as a part of the University Career Center, which included both academic transcript notation internships and cooperative education experiences,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said not many universities have a center dedicated solely for this purpose or provide scholarship funds to students participating in pathway opportunities.
“I believe strongly this program will grow to be a resource both on-campus for students, [faculty and staff] as well as the larger community that we serve and bring national recognition to the university,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said internships and other pathway opportunities are an optimal way in which students can develop these skills.
“[Students] that participate in pathway opportunities are typically more committed to their career goals, better prepared to navigate the job search process and in a better position to negotiate offers for full-time post- graduation employment,” Gonzalez said.
For more information regarding the Center for Pathway Experiences or scholarship application information, the office is located in McLemore Hall 125, visit the center’s website usm.edu/pathways or call 601-266-4153.