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Experiential Learning & Teaching in Higher Education

Abstract

Access to higher education has increased within the last decades, particularly within historically underserved communities, but the challenges of navigating college for first-generation Latino/a/x students still show up in the disproportionate rates of retention, persistence, and graduation for this group (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019). High-impact practices have shown to promote student retention and help close the achievement gap for underrepresented students. More specifically, internships and experiential learning activities play an important role in aiding students' careers, academic major, and self-exploration. For first-generation college students, engaging with higher education institutions through these practices often leads to better academic outcomes and an increase in persistence and retention (Conefrey, 2021). Additionally, professionals of color who work at higher education institutions serve as mentors for students of color and often play a large role in the engagement of this community of students. These faculty and staff of color, when working with students, consider the background and identities as well as their social and cultural capital that this specific student population is bringing with them to a college campus, and in many cases provide more resources and support than what their role entails (Luedke, 2017).

During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, a virtual internship preparation and readiness program, Latinx Internship Prepa, was created and launched during the Summer 2020 semester and again in the Fall 2020 semester. The Latinx Internship Prepa program was designed to provide already existing campus resources and services, such as the Career Center and Writing Center, in a structured 5-week student program. The program also provided guidance on accessing and scheduling the use of these services for first-generation Latinx students and providing a direct connection with staff members in these offices. Participating students were provided with career development tools (e.g., resume building, cover letter writing, and LinkedIn branding tips) as well as experiential activities (mock-interviews and presentation delivery practice) to assist these students with applying and interviewing for national and competitive internships and other experiences such as fellowships and clinicals. Professionals of color and/or first-generation professionals were invited to participate in this program by delivering career readiness content through presentations and engaging activities, in addition to leading individual and group mock-interviews with students. Feedback was considered from the summer session, in which students requested more peer interaction and practice of presentation skills. As a result, in the fall semester, a group presentation over a professional development topic of their choosing was added as an additional activity.

This article focuses on the experiences of Latinx, First-Generation undergraduate college students who participated in a 5-week online synchronous internship preparation and readiness program. A secondary data set was used in which 18 students during the summer 2020 session and an additional 7 students during the fall 2020 session responded to both qualitative and quantitative questions. Analyses of the data yielded themes that can inform students’ academic and professional planning and future programs to continue to incorporate cultural representation and more intentional support.

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