ATLAS Internship Program provides hands-on experience

ATLAS interns
During the 2020-2021 academic year, more than 160 students found opportunities to expand their technology and professional skills with the ATLAS Internship Program

In a technology-driven society, computational skills are utilized in every professional field. 

Within the ATLAS Internship Program, College of LAS students develop a deeper understanding of technology through exposure to essential skills that can help them thrive in the workplace. During the 2020-2021 academic year, more than 160 students found opportunities to expand their technology and professional skills with an ATLAS internship.

“One of the things we always hear from seniors is that when they go to career fairs, the interviewers generally focus on their ATLAS internship experience,” said Michelle Rome, assistant director of internships and communication. “Students are using that to help them find more internship experiences as well as their first jobs. Some of our alumni have advanced in their careers and say their ATLAS internship was their most impactful experience at Illinois.”  

Rome added that the program is designed as an entry-level internship that operates similar to a consulting company. ATLAS administrators find the work and match the opportunities with LAS students. Since 2015, the program has placed 523 students into 843 internship experiences on campus, within the Champaign-Urbana community, and remotely across the country.

“It’s an opportunity for students to learn more about what they might want to do for a job,” Rome explained. “We want students to know that they don’t have to be afraid of technology. We will teach them everything they need to know. You can come in not knowing what technology is and gain hands-on experience.”

From website design to digital content strategy to data analysis — ATLAS interns work within various units throughout campus and the Illinois system, as well as clients beyond the university setting in area businesses, startups across the U.S., and community not-for-profits.

“We’ve had testimonies from our students working at Feeding Our Kids that they were surprised that they could take their data analysis interests and apply it to topics like making sure people have food security,” Rome said, adding that students have also worked for United Way and Habitat for Humanity.  

When Nyemba Bryant, a May 2021 graduate from the Department of Psychology, transferred to Illinois for the Fall 2019 semester, she was searching for a place to engage when she found a flyer for the internship program in the English Building. 

“I was so new, and I didn’t know anyone,” she said. “I was trying to find how I could gain experience, and ATLAS was extremely helpful in that sense.”

Bryant admits that before finding the ATLAS program she was unsure where she wanted her degree to take her, but the internship experiences helped her to realize she hopes to build a career within the technology sector. 

“I have a lot of skills that are on my resume now that are going to look so good, and I wouldn’t have that without (the internship experience),” Bryant said. “I am eternally grateful. They are helping to teach you how to be a professional and work with a client. It’s a very tech-centered program, but the professional and developmental skills that they provide students is other-worldly.”

For students who are unsure of their career path, Bryant recommends applying for an ATLAS internship. The program offers the chance to build a different skillset that can apply to a variety of professional fields.

“I’ve met a lot of people who don’t know what they want to do — that’s very normal, even for juniors and seniors.” Bryant said. “There are so many programs at the university that can help you find your niche. At ATLAS, you’ll find every major within LAS. We are all different students on different pathways, but we are working on the same projects so it really tells you that it doesn’t necessarily matter what your major is, it doesn’t limit what you can do.”

After a first-year experience working on a campus Moodle project, Bryant started as content strategist on a new project for the Life + Career Design Lab during the Fall 2020 semester with a mission to turn the physical lab in Lincoln Hall into a virtual space. The team networked with other programs and units on campus who were also diving into virtual reality platforms, but they found everyone was in the same position.

“We started with a blank slate, because with the pandemic, this was the first time any of us had to approach something like this,” Bryant explained. “We were trying to find a platform that students would appreciate and use, even after the pandemic is over.”

The team selected a virtual world called Topia, and they spent the school year creating virtual spaces that represent the resources provided by the Life + Career Design Lab interns. 

“This work made me feel more comfortable with school, because I felt like I fit somewhere,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of work that I’m very proud of.”

Bryant graduated in May, but she is returning to the program for the summer as a project manager to help the next interns transition into the assignment. Rome added that upon leaving the program, many students say learning to operate in a professional arena is a different experience than the lessons learned in a classroom setting.

“One thing to take away is teamwork, that’s something that is so helpful in this time,” Bryant said. “The autonomy you have to develop to do the work online on a team, meet with people, share presentations online — these all things I know that I’m going to use professionally. I wouldn’t have learned that skill without being in ATLAS.”

Program applications are open, and new projects begin each semester. All opportunities for the summer semester are remote while, this fall, clients will have the choice to continue remote experiences or move to face-to-face contact. 

News Source

Kayleigh Rahn