By Drew Fawcett

Tania Velazquez, Suffolk's Director of Career Services/Cooperative Education, is passionate about matching students with valuable, hands-on learning experiences.

Tania Velazquez, Suffolk’s Director of Career Services/Cooperative Education, is passionate about matching students with valuable, hands-on learning experiences.

“Students often have their ‘aha’ moment during an internship,” says Tania Velazquez, Director of Career Services/Cooperative Education at Suffolk County Community College. “Through hands-on experience, an internship will help students realize if they are pursing a career that’s right for them. Conversely, it will also let a student know if the career may not be a good fit.”

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reported in their 2018 Student Survey that students overwhelmingly felt that experiential opportunities, like internships, positively contributed to career readiness. In fact, nearly 80% of students responding to the survey who had an internship and/or co-op experience said their professionalism and work ethic were “very” or “extremely” improved by the experience. Most of these students cited improved teamwork/collaboration competencies and enhanced oral and written communication skills.

Annabelle Bentley is helping to rehabilitate injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat.

In her final semester at Suffolk, Annabelle Bentley has been interning at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. The rescue and rehabilitation organization is affiliated with the Long Island Aquarium and is dedicated to the conservation and preservation of marine mammals and sea turtles. The internship has validated Ms. Bentley’s ambition to achieve a career in marine biology. “It’s enhanced my love for marine animals,” she says. “I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time. The classroom is mainly just theory but in my internship, I’m up close and personal with the animals. Now, I’m taking care of injured turtles while also doing lab work and blood work. It’s been absolutely amazing.”

Real-Life Situations, Real-World Experiences

“We’re a small team and we’re very dependent upon our interns,” says Maxine Montallo, Rescue Program Director and Coordinator of Internships at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. “They become part of our family. There’s a great deal of training that goes on, especially in regard to returning our animals into the wild. These internships provide real field experience for the students and, at the same time, we are helping to create more marine biologists.”

Internships offer students numerous benefits, including:

• An opportunity to test out different careers

• An opportunity to simultaneously acquire college credit and career experience

• An opportunity to build a résumé and create industry networks for future employment

Alex Castro has seen communications skills improve as an intern with the SCPD

Alex Acosta has seen communications skills improve as an intern with the SCPD.

Officer Sylvia Gill of the Suffolk County Police Academy In-Service Training Section says, “Our interns are involved in all aspects of law enforcement to see if it’s the career for them. They work with our K9 Unit, our Marine Bureau, they visit our jails and courtrooms and even participate in ride-alongs. We also bring in guest speakers from the DEC, FBI, Sheriff’s Office, and Correction Officers Association so that, in addition to the Suffolk County Police Department, students can get first-hand knowledge about other agencies of law enforcement.”

In an increasingly competitive world, internships are often proven to be the difference between gainful employment and wishful thinking among new college graduates. “Often, breaking into a field can come down to who you know, and internships are a great way to network,” says Ms. Velazquez. In fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reveals that almost 75% of employers preferred to hire candidates who already possess relevant work experience and, given a preference for any kind of work experience, more than half of employers prefer that it comes from an internship.

In addition to the obvious benefits acquired through internships, students also gain invaluable lessons about workplace culture, teamwork, organizational structure, and personal responsibility – all skills that are part of the maturation process.

“I have family members in law enforcement and I’ve always been inspired by them,” says Alex Acosta, a Criminal Justice major at Suffolk. “The internship has been amazing. I see how it’s not always easy in law enforcement, but their job is to always provide help in the community. I’m learning how to communicate with different kinds of people. I’m seeing my potential, and in five years I can see myself working on a master’s degree in Criminal Justice.”

Suffolk students can choose from among dozens of regional and national internship opportunities, including the Disney College Program.

Valuable Partners Near and Far

Suffolk’s Office of Career Services has dozens of internship partners that provide Suffolk students with a wide range of hands-on learning opportunities in sectors that include healthcare, broadcasting, law and law enforcement, conservation, hospitality, entertainment, accounting and finance, STEM, and many more. While many of the internships are regionally based, the College also partners with the renowned Disney College Program. As a Disney College Program participant, students get valuable on-the-job experience in Disney’s parks and resorts and become part of the magic that is known worldwide.

Getting Started

Finding an internship at Suffolk is a snap. Students can simply stop in a Career Services Office on any campus or visit for more information. “Looking for an opportunity that you don’t see?” asks Ms. Velazquez.  “We can also create new internship opportunities to meet the interest of the student. It all starts with a conversation that allows us to get to know the personality and academic interest of the student more fully.”

If your company is interested in partnering with the College by establishing an internship opportunity, please contact Ms. Velazquez at 631-451-4049.