COD Faculty Externships a Valuable Experience for Faculty and Students

Perkins Grant icon

Mike McKissack

During the spring 2016 term, COD faculty members from the Accounting, Anesthesia Technology, Auto Service Technology, Human Services and Interior Design programs gained valuable professional and educational experiences through the Perkins Faculty Externship, a pilot program funded through a Perkins Grant proposal.

Participating faculty members received stipends for spending time in professional settings related to the disciplines in which they instruct. Geared toward the goal of honing their skills and gaining knowledge of current trends, the participants shadowed professionals, served as volunteers and provided pro bono services.

Participants were selected based on proposal statements identifying clear goals for their experiences and a commitment to share the outcomes of their experiences with colleagues.

“I believe that this is truly a project that will pay it forward in terms of benefitting many students, faculty and staff in the future,” said Donna Stewart, College of DuPage Dean of Business and Technology. “All of the participants will share the outcomes of their experience via departmental, divisional or program advisory committee meetings at the beginning of the fall 2016 semester.”

Stewart, who has applied for further Perkins Grant funding for future faculty externship opportunities, said the grant program provided a wide range of experiences for participants as well as some common themes.

“Some found personal satisfaction through this sort of workplace engagement, while others reflected on substantial shifts in the workplace due to emerging technology, a growing focus on customer service or changing employee demographics. However, allof the participants reported that participation in this program will definitely strengthen their programs and enhance student experiences.”

After working in public accounting as a CEO, Human Services Instructor Andrea Polites found herself drawn to the field of human services and spent time at Family Shelter Service as the clinical director and children's services coordinator before joining COD as an instructor. During her recent externship, she served as a volunteer performing in two different roles with the YWCA. As a Rape Crisis Hotline volunteer, she was on-call to take phone calls for the YWCA's Rape Crisis hotlines, respond to crisis calls in person at local hospitals, as well as help counsel victims of sexual violence and provide resources to assist them in their recovery. As a medical advocate volunteer, she was on-call to provide 24-hour medical advocacy for sexual assault victims in hospital emergency rooms.

At COD, Polites teaches Human 1180 Domestic/Family Violence, a class that involves a partnership between the College and the YWCA and Family Shelter Service. The course provides students with an overview of societal attitudes toward domestic and family violence and sexual abuse and assault.

Polites said she was pleased with her experiences during the externship.

“This externship provided a wonderful opportunity to get out of the classroom and synthesize academic concepts with real-life application,” she said. “Even though I am an LCSW with over 10 years of experience, I benefited greatly and gained insight from supervision with the wise women of the YWCA.”

Polites said that one of the goals of serving the externship was to share real-world examples and industry experiences with students.

“One of the most important experiences I will share with my students is the feeling of powerlessness I had when speaking with the victims,” she said. “They often did not give their last names, ages or locations and I really had to harness my desire to direct them. As a social worker, I embrace the concepts of self-determination and empowerment, yet it was difficult for me to make peace with their decision to simply talk with me on the telephone and possibly not report the incident or seek medical treatment.”

She noted that this particular lesson will be relevant for students enrolled in her classes.

“Often students want to jump in and solve a client's problems,” she said. “The sharing of my experiences will help them to better understand the concept of self-determination and that the client is the expert on what works best for them.”

According to Matt Shanahan, Assistant Professor of Automotive Technology at COD, the externship provided a greater opportunity to bring real-world experience to his students.

“During the externship, I gained great information to pass along to students,” Shanahan said. “Instead of learning only theory from a textbook, students will enjoy and benefit from hearing case studies taken from a professional environment.”

Shanahan, who earned both a certificate and an A.A.S. degree in Automotive Technology at COD, went on to earn his B.S. in Automotive Technology from Southern Illinois University and is currently working toward an M.B.A. in Management and Social Media/Internet Marketing at St. Xavier University. He served his externship at Kammes Auto & Truck Repair, Inc., where he shadowed the shop manager and interviewed the shop owner to gain insight on the management and customer service areas of an automotive repair business.

“I would like to serve an externship every year,” he said. “It was good to be back in a shop environment to see firsthand the challenges that repair shops face today and how they are dealing with those challenges.”

Before becoming a full-time Assistant Professor at COD, Shanahan worked for Kammes. He said the experience from the externship will be particularly helpful in preparation for two newly approved service management classes and a prospective certificate program at COD.

“A repair shop is very hectic,” he said. “Being there with the objective of observing management and customer service was a great opportunity to gain insight into the subject without being consumed by other job duties while on site.”

He said there were some unexpected discoveries he made during the externship.

“Another benefit of the externship was being able to see the types of repairs going on in the shop,’ he said. “I was surprised to find that many of the repairs being performed in the shop were very technical and this was a clear demonstration that the need for educated and well-trained technicians will continue to increase.”

Shanahan said he was pleased with the externship and that he would recommend serving externships to other faculty members.

“I would absolutely recommend serving an externship to other faculty,” he said. “It’s especially important for career and technical education to stay close to industry protocols because of how quickly technology advances. While you might think management wouldn’t change that much, it actually changes quite a bit as new technologies are developed and implemented.”

College of DuPage is an accredited community college that serves more than 29,000 students each term. The College, which grants nine associate degrees and more than 170 certificates in 100 areas of study, is the second largest provider of public undergraduate education in Illinois.

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