Robert Vega

Corporate communications senior Stephanie Robalino completed a seven-month-long virtual internship for Too Good Strategy, a business-consulting agency. Virtual internships allow students to gain experience while working remotely.
Photo Credit: Mariana Gonzalez | Daily Texan Staff

Corporate communications senior Stephanie Robalino walks out of class and heads to a nearby coffee shop. She has a few hours to kill, so she sits down and flips open her laptop. Instead of turning on Netflix or sifting through Buzzfeed articles, she rebuilds a company’s website and analyzes competitors. By the time her next class rolls around, she’s earned $30. 

Robalino is part of the trend of students across the nation working in virtual internships. From the comfort of a coffee shop between classes or her bedroom at 1 a.m., Robalino completed a seven-month-long internship for Too Good Strategy, a business-consulting agency. She helped build a new website for the company, researched competing agencies and organized her boss’ notes — all done without stepping foot in the office.

“Virtual working in general is pretty normal,” Robalino said. “You see a bunch of people working in coffee shops every day. It was a big selling point for me.”

Virtual internships allow people to gain experience while working remotely for a company. Interns communicate with their employers via email, text, Skype and other forms of digital communication. Over the past few years, websites such as Internships.com and InternMatch.com have added virtual options to their sites. 

“I’d say that it’s growing, and it’s a huge value added for students,” said Robert Vega, director of career services in the College of Liberal Arts. “You can do a virtual internship with someone, say in San Francisco or London, during the semester.”

Instead of going into the office for meetings, Robalino had weekly 20-minute phone calls with her boss and the rest of the team. She logged her 10 hours a week on an online accounting software and earned $10 an hour. 

“I wanted an unstructured environment,” Robalino said. “I like being able to work on my own time and not be tied down by certain time restrictions.”

Over the summer, journalism sophomore Jazmyn Griffin interned at an online music publication called ABScream Media, but her boss lived nearly 2,000 miles away in Boston. She interviewed musicians and wrote stories for the site at the same time she was taking summer classes at UT. 

“You get to write for a type of publication that may not be available in your area,” Griffin said. “Some people live in the middle of nowhere, so they might not have a local music magazine that they could be a part of.”    

While this type of internship eliminates commuting to work, provides flexible hours and saves companies workspace, it comes with challenges and criticisms.  

“Some of the challenges for students, especially for those where it might be their first professional opportunity, are, ‘How do you communicate with a supervisor virtually?’” Vega said. “‘How do you receive feedback? How do you become integrated into a team when you might be the only person who’s not in the office?’”    

Vega said the lack of a structured learning environment is one reason why virtual internships often do not qualify for academic credit. The College of Liberal Arts, for example, does not allow students to use their virtual internships to gain academic credit. 

Similarly, the Moody College of Communications’ website states that the “college will award academic credit for virtual internships in very rare instances.” The college reasons that “an intern left to learn by themselves … is rarely engaged in a learning experience worthy of academic credit.” Robalino was one of those exceptions and gained credit for her internship.

Even though these internships rarely qualify for credit, career services in colleges across campuses continue to promote these virtual opportunities. 

“I definitely see this as a big thing,” Robalino said. “I think that millennials are different in the way that we want more freedom out of our jobs in general.”

Although Texas’ job growth continues to outpace the rest of the U.S. at all pay levels, a highly educated workforce is essential for Texas to continue making significant economic gains, according to a new report.

The report, “Texas Leads Nation in Creation of Jobs at All Pay Levels,” used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey to find that from 2000 to 2013, Texas had a higher job growth percentage than the rest of the U.S. The report also suggested that the top half of wage distribution accounted for 55 percent of job growth in Texas.

Co-author Pia Orrenius, who is a senior economist and vice president of the Federal Reserve of Dallas, said even though Texas has managed to create middle-class jobs, the lack of middle-class job growth in the rest of the U.S. and other countries will affect the state. She said quality education is a crucial factor to ensure that Texas continues to create high-paying jobs.

“Part of the problem has been that there’s been a lack of supply or a slowdown in the increase of the number of people with college degrees,” Orrenius said. “An important piece of this is to make sure that we continue to see an increase in the number of people with college degrees.”

Orrenius said she expects to see the greatest increase in job growth in finance, insurance, real estate, health, education and professional and business services, which include lawyers and accountants.

Robert Vega, Liberal Arts Career Services director, said UT graduates find jobs at all pay levels.

According to Vega, the National Association of Colleges and Employers conducted an early examination of UT’s class of 2014 and predicted 2014 salaries would not increase much from 2013. Overall, the 2014 average salary of a UT graduate is $45,473, which is a 1.2 percent increase from 2013. The 2014 average salary of College of Liberal Arts graduates is $38,045, an increase of 3.5 percent from 2013. College of Engineering graduates are reporting an average salary of $62,710, an increase of 0.3 percent.

Vega said the majority of UT students prefer to start a career in Austin or elsewhere in Texas, which affects their ability to find a job.

“When the economy is down, our graduates have to be more flexible and open-minded when searching for their first job,” Vega said. “When the economy is up, graduates may have a better employment outlook, but they must still be ready to compete in their targeted job search.”

According to economics senior Helen Lee, who has work-study and marketing experience, the consulting field is very competitive. Lee said she has already accepted a consulting job in The Woodlands.

“It is a good place for me to start out as a recent graduate, and there are a lot of opportunities in Texas,” Lee said. “However, I do think in the future that a master’s degree or a Ph.D. degree would be beneficial to advance my career.”

Orrenius said she expects more widespread job growth across the U.S., especially in states such as California and Florida.

“What we’re seeing now is that Texas has done extremely well since the recession … we were kind of the only game in town,” Orrenius said. “Now we’re seeing the rest of the U.S. catch up, and the forecast right now is very favorable. These other states are coming back finally, and it’s been a long haul, but that’s a positive.”

Photo Credit: Danielle Thomas | Daily Texan Staff

Facing a tough job market and unclear career choices, college graduates may look to teaching English abroad for an opportunity to support themselves and broaden their horizons.

The demand for English teachers around the world has remained strong even as the global economy has contracted recently, said Southwestern University alumna Tanlyn Roelofs, who taught English to high school students in Berlin. Roelof graduated with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She said she moved to Austin and took a job waiting tables because she wasn’t sure what to do next. Roelof said she applied to a number of public service programs and was accepted to the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, which operates a teaching program in Berlin. Roelof spoke to UT students last semester at the Sanger Learning and Career Center about her experiences teaching abroad. Roelof said teaching abroad helped her to decide what career she wanted to pursue.

“Even if we’re in a global recession, there are a lot of opportunities to teach English abroad because the ability to speak English is a world skill,” she said.

Robert Vega, a Liberal Arts Career Services staff member, said UT students have discovered the same opportunities. He said students should speak to a career counselor before they go abroad to teach.

“Most people don’t become English teachers for the rest of their lives,” he said. “If they speak to us before they go abroad, we can help them decide how to come back and put their teaching experience on their resume, make it attractive to recruiters and tell that story in an interview.”

Vega speaks from personal experience. He taught English in Japan for three years after graduating from the University of Houston with a bachelor’s in political science and Boston University with a master’s in international relations.

Vega said people with an independent spirit and a taste for adventure are attracted to teaching abroad.

“People that travel abroad are open to adventure,” he said. ”They’re willing to put themselves in an environment where they’re completely on their own, where everything is new and they might not know the native language.”

Teaching English abroad can also provide financial independence, Vega said.

“Unlike studying abroad during college, you can support yourself while you travel,” he said.

Vega said he encourages more students to travel before entering into their lifelong careers.

“Here in America, we are so career and job-oriented,” he said. “Compare that to Europeans and Australians who are used to taking a gap experience. I think that if every American took a gap year, we would be a more well-rounded people. We wouldn’t have fewer bankers; we’d have better bankers.”

Academic advisor Tim Ashlock said teaching English abroad is often a good decision for students that do not have an obvious career path after graduation.

“Unless you studied something career-oriented like engineering, accounting or journalism, you can learn a lot about what you want to do with your life by teaching abroad,” Ashlock said.

French junior Evan Markley said he plans to teach English in France when he graduates. He said living in France while teaching English would be a great way to use his French degree. Markley said he also hopes to network while teaching and to stay in France for graduate school.

“I’d like to stick around in France and go to graduate school there,” he said. “I think it’d be easier to get a work visa if I taught English and then hopefully make some connections.”

Rebecca Rinas, who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville with a degree in communications and also spoke to UT students last semester alongside Roelof, said she used teaching English to finance her travels in Guatemala, Hungary and Germany.

“After I started traveling I couldn’t stop,” she said. “While in Central America I randomly went into an English school and they hired me. Then I discovered that I actually really enjoyed it and kept doing it.

Rinas said she encourages students like Markley to follow her example.

“Do it,” she said. “Don’t hesitate. It will change your life.”

Printed on Thursday, February 16, 2012 as: Teaching English abroad provides well-rounded experiences