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Acquisition of Professional Skills

As a group, practicum students meet face-to-face for one hour each week, which assists in creating a sense of cohesion and identity as a group. As noted by Donnelly-Smith (2010), the importance of creating a cohort experience is helpful to overall learning. During this meeting, students’ have the opportunity to interact with their peers and the university supervisor on assigned discussion topics which connect family law, public policy, and the needs at their assigned site. In a study of entry-level family life educators, Darling, Fleming, and Cassidy (2009) found that knowledge of family law and public policy was important to effectively meeting needs in families. In addition, the practicum requirement addresses the students’ perceived skills needed for obtaining a job (Jaschik, 2010).

There are a limited number of appropriate sites related to family life education within the community; therefore, it is not unusual for a site to host two students at a time for practicum. Two students at a site provides them the opportunity to work together on projects assigned by either their site or university supervisor. A writing assignment requiring students to interview their on-site supervisor for details regarding his/her education, job description, the history of the agency, and funding information provides the opportunity for extended conversation between site supervisor and student.

The addition of the practicum experience as a pre-requisite to internship allows for early development of professional skills not able to be gained in the classroom setting. The structure of the practicum semester is focused on assisting students in understanding professional practice issues and offering the opportunity to practice the skills that will be expected of them as they enter their careers in a short six months. The opportunity to be involved in meaningful work that will translate to resumebuilding skills is critical to learning experiences (Donnelly-Smith, 2010). Acquisition of basic professional skills provides a foundation upon which the internship experience can build, creating the opportunity for maximum pre-professional preparation. Most students have held jobs, typically hourly positions; most likely their coworkers were others in their age cohort (Steinberg, 2010). Adolescents most often are employed in service (fast-food restaurants) or retail positions where they work with other adolescents and may be supervised by someone only a few years older than themselves (Steinberg, 2010). Moving into careers where students will have coworkers across the age span, young professionals will benefit from communication and interpersonal skill training. While students may believe that they know the expectations in the workforce, their previous interactions with a supervisor who was likely to be within a few years of their age means they may believe that it is appropriate to text or send casual e-mails regarding work-related concerns. Students may not fully realize that resolution of workplace issues requires skills different from those used with friends or even coworkers at previous jobs. The afternoon nap, decisions about whether to go to class, whether to participate in the classroom, scheduling of classes to accommodate late nights are all “perks” of college life; however, these perks are short-lived in the world of work. College students fantasize about life after college—that they will not be as busy, stressed out, or short on time. Practicum requires students to commit to being at their sites at specific scheduled times on a regular basis. Students must complete a set number of hours each week in order to finish 120 hours over the course of the semester. It is not enough to just show up at the practicum site; students must be at their best and ready to perform on task.

High-Impact Elements

The high-impact practice of developing authentic connections with peers/ faculty/community is employed in the development of professional skills in practicum. A unique relationship is established between instructor and student in the weekly face-to-face meetings, as the students bear responsibility for leading discussions. The creation of a learning contract and completion of tasks assists the student and site supervisor to develop a mentoring relationship. The application to other settings on and off campus is the second high-impact practice embodied in the practicum semester. The development of the communication and professional behaviors gained in practicum translate to the internship experience and family life education employment after graduation.

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