Anna Ross raves about her time with AU Mentorship, a first-year, non-degree student program that matched students with mentored internships.
Ross, SPA/BA ’22, believes it jumpstarted her eventual career in political advocacy work and became the first of five internships she’d take as a student. The skills she learned in this first internship translated to practical skills in the classroom.
“One of my main goals coming to college was to be in DC because I wanted to work here, and this program really set me up for that,” said Ross, who first interned with social marketing firm Neimand Collaborative in DC.
In the past, AU Mentorship students didn’t fully matriculate until the spring, so their fall semester included an internship in DC or a semester in Bath, England. They lived in a learning community separate from other first-year students. Ross did wish she could have lived with most of the freshmen class to feel fully integrated with other first-year students. In past years, AU Mentorship students were grouped away from other first-years.
This year the program will be retooled and renamed the AU Cornerstone program. The task force working to revamp the Mentorship program wanted to ensure AU Cornerstone participants had the same experience as other AU first-year students—such as living together. Cornerstone students will now live in residence halls within the University College and participate in the living-learning community.
Moving the program’s participants within the University College is just one of the changes in the AU Cornerstone program, which AU hopes will build upon its predecessor's successes.
“I’ve seen some of the changes, and I have to admit that I’m jealous of the incoming students,” Ross said.
The new AU Cornerstone program is an invitation-based, optional track for first-year students who want to get started their career path or study abroad during their first year. Students will take AU courses in addition to their internship, which is three days a week in DC. They will also enroll in a Complex Problems seminar, AUx courses, and other AU Core requirements.
AU hopes to enroll about 150 students in the AU Cornerstone program, with about 20 students studying abroad in Bath, England, and the rest undertaking internships in the DC area.
"We're cognizant that interning in the first year is not ideal for every student,” said Jessica Waters, dean of undergraduate education and vice provost for academic student services. “It is a strong experience for some first-year students, so we're trying to find the students who will have an experience that enriches their first year. It’s important that students who intern during their first year are ready for it and that they have strong mentorship and guidance while they do so.”
“Cornerstone will now be under that University College umbrella, so we're able to have structure and the support of the living-learning communities for those first-year students. They'll be advised by first-year advisors. They'll take the same classes that first-year students traditionally take. So, the program becomes completely integrated into the first-year experience, just like any of our other programs.”
Under AU Cornerstone, students will have one semester for study abroad or internship and the other semester to take a traditional first-year course load and choose which semester to do either.
During a recent webinar for AU Cornerstone, some prospective students asked if they were guaranteed an internship if they joined the program. Adam Anthony, assistant dean of Washington Semester programs, told the group that they would get an internship if they put in the work. Waters said AU Mentorship built an extensive database with partners and will work closely with students to find the right fit.
"We start working with them over the summer before they even get to AU,” Waters said. “So, we'll be doing cover letter and resume review. We'll be talking to them about internship placement sites. We'll be making sure we understand exactly what they'll be doing in their internship.”
Because AU Cornerstone will now be a full part of the first-year experience, students in the program can utilize their need-based and merit-based financial aid. The idea is to open the program to students regardless of their financial need. While all internships are for credit, students do have opportunities for paid internships, and the AU Career Center does have some funding available for high-need students with unpaid internships.
"The program is really exciting for a lot of students, and the ability to do that where it's fully integrated into the first-year experience, and isn't dependent on your financial need is huge,” Waters said. “I think it's a program that we can feel really excited about knowing that we're meeting the needs and expectations of our students.”