As Leslie Nicolas walked into Mayo Clinic Square in downtown Minneapolis on a Wednesday morning last month, it was with a purpose vastly different than most college first-years go in for. She wasn’t there to receive treatment or see a doctor; she was there to work.

Nicolas is interested in a career in physical therapy and – thanks to the internship program built into the curriculum of St. Thomas’ Dougherty Family College (DFC) – every Wednesday she works a full, paid day at Mayo. Whether sitting in on meetings or being around treatment, Nicolas is soaking up a dynamic professional experience in the midst of just her second college semester.

“It’s nice to see I’m getting ahead,” Nicolas said. “I’m learning and getting this experience at a young age; I’ll be more prepared in the future. It’s a great opportunity for [DFC students.]”

It’s an experience shared across the Twin Cities with her peers of the DFC’s inaugural class: They are interning across dozens of companies, including Best Buy, 3M, Padilla, Marriott, Boston Scientific, Delta Air Lines, and many more large, medium and small companies. Students will continue interning throughout their sophomore year as well, many of them tapping into the expansive alumni Tommie network in the Twin Cities.

“You’re working and getting real experience, with real people in real situations. You’re actually seeing the start of a career; I’m looking to go into business so this is a great opportunity for me,” said DeAmonte Block, who is interning with U.S. Bancorp. “Especially when you reflect on what you want to do after school, the internships help mold us toward what we might do.”

“I’m seeing the real world, other people’s day-to-day work,” said first-year Najma Osman, who is interning at the search firm of LymanDoran.

Students also get exposure to the huge range of professional possibilities their own career could take, especially at larger companies. For those interning at medium- and smaller-sized companies, they can see how everyone fits together to form the company’s overall work, said internship program director Kris Donnelly ‘93.

“They each bring opportunities of their own, and then students bring those to conversations and lessons to each other,” said Donnelly, who also discussed ways DFC faculty and staff help facilitate reflection and learning for students about their internship experiences. “It allows a lot of neat companies to learn from our students, and for our students to learn from them.”

Donnelly said not every internship experience is aimed specifically at what students are interested in currently; the main goal is building their professional skills and network.

“I’m most excited for our students that the skills they’re learning now are the basic professional skills and a real understanding of what it means to be successful in the workplace,” she added. “That will help these students be incredibly competitive in earning those internships later on that are more specific to their interests.”

Regardless of where they head each Wednesday, DFC students, faculty and staff are working together to ensure each experience is as beneficial as possible.

“Students have expressed how rewarding and fulfilling it’s been, and it’s an added benefit to Dougherty and what we’re trying to accomplish to not only have the academic rigor, to challenge them to grow socially, but also the professional experience to help them grow,” said Associate Dean of Students Doug Thompson. “This is very, very uncommon. I don’t know many first-years who get a chance to sit in some of the organizations our students are getting the chance to be at.”

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