Stockton Liaison Describes His Commitment to Offering Students Immersive Internship Experiences

Michael Rodriguez (Stockton University).

Michael Rodriguez is the campus liaison at Stockton University where he is also a professor of political science, as well as department chair. One-third of his job is specifically dedicated to his liaison duties.

This prioritization of responsibilities was, in part, what attracted Michael to the position with Stockton - the commitment to offering students immersive educational experiences. He spoke with us at the conclusion of the TWC Employer-Higher Ed Roundtable 2018.

Why did your university decide to work with The Washington Center? How did that partnership come to be?

We have been with The Washington Center from Day One, Fall 1975. Stockton had just come online four years prior to that. Even early on, it had become apparent to Stockton that they needed some kind of platform for immersive experiences they could adopt without having to create or manage it, and TWC provided that. Stockton has sent more students to TWC than any other institution in the country, between 1,100-1,200 students since 1975. We are very proud of that.

Can you describe your institution’s relationship with TWC?

Stockton is primarily oriented toward the Academic Internship Program (AIP). We are very much a working class-middle class sort of institution. If our students are going to come to Washington, D.C., we channel them into the internship program because we have made arrangements to assist them in the cost. Every four years we do send some students to the campaign/convention seminars. We’ll be doing that again in 2020.

How has the partnership evolved?

The numbers were very low before I came on at Stockton. In Fall 2005, we had four students. I came in January 2006 and the following Fall we had eight and it continued at eight for the next few years before shooting up to twelve. The Spring semester has always been our bigger semester. In total, we send between 30-45 students per calendar year. I’m not certain that people associated the internship program with TWC previously. They just knew Stockton had an internship program. A lot of people at Stockton now understand it is the TWC internship program. We cancel classes two days a semester for advising and a lot of faculty send their students to see me during those sessions. They tell them they need to go do an internship in D.C. and we market it for all majors. The entirety of faculty and staff are very supportive. 

In what way (if any) does TWC serve as an extension of your campus in D.C.?

I tell students, you’re registered at Stockton while living in Washington, D.C. It’s similar to being at an extension campus because they are fully students on the main campus, but at the “satellite” campus in another place. They’re getting credit through Stockton, registered at Stockton, but living in D.C. It’s still a total package for them - housing, advising, placement, activities, LEAD programming, evening class - with a whole semester’s worth of credits attached. Plus, they are still in touch with their advisor back on campus. They’re not cut off. And they see the liaison, me, as the person who bridges that relationship. I don’t think they experience it as being separated from Stockton, they’re just learning away from campus. 

Can you review your involvement with TWC: How long have you been a liaison? Have you attended any events or seminars?

I have been the liaison at Stockton since January 2006. Unlike other institutions that I am familiar with, being the TWC liaison is part of my contract here. I believe how the liaison position is structured at the home institution is critical. I do know that a lot of faculty and staff have this as part of their portfolio. It doesn’t stand out on its own and doesn’t have the sort of value that Stockton applies to it. Our administration wanted it specifically to be a faculty position, not a staff position, with two-thirds teaching responsibility and one-third being campus liaison. And for purposes of tenure or promotion, how I had performed in the liaison role at the time of tenure consideration was part of my evaluation. That told me the administration saw this as a high priority and placed a lot of value on its responsibilities. That was very enticing when I applied for the job at Stockton. 

Is there a specific highlight or experience from your time as a liaison you could share?

One is that I am very much impressed by the level of buy-in and support from the faculty. I have been told by the president and provost this is a priority program for the university. I have a lot of professors at Stockton that like the program and talk about it with their students. The students also return from D.C. and tell their professors about the experience. That reinforces the support these other professors have in the program. It also prompts a lot of my fellow professors to look for opportunities or arrangements to prod students to seek out opportunities beyond their comfort zones. Washington is three hours away, but it’s still a big leap for many of our students and alot of our professors and staff realize that. I also really enjoy and benefit from the community of fellow liaisons from other TWC partner institutions, and the opportunities to meet with them in D.C. each year through the Liaison Institutes and Liaison Advisory Board Meetings.

Knowing what is happening on other campuses and exchanging ideas makes me feel like I am not doing this all on my own. I’m actually part of a community of like-minded professionals, faculty and staff. I appreciate that a lot.

Michael Rodriguez, campus liaison at Stockton University.
Michael Rodriguez (Stockton University).

Has a specific student(s) returned from TWC with an impactful story?

There are many, but one I refer to quite often is a student named Ryan. He interned with an Ohio Congressional office and it was understaffed. At one point, the congressman asked if anyone could do a memo on a constitutional question. So our student, our intern, volunteered to give it a shot saying he had taken a course on constitutional law at Stockton. It so impressed the congressman that by the end of the semester he was a full staff member. He was still an intern, but he was getting assignments like staff. He went on to become a political operative for a presidential campaign. That one little moment of volunteering for a task led to all these other opportunities and new possibilities opened up for him. His career was very much shaped by that experience in the internship program and the subsequent steps it led to. 

What are the benefits of TWC you mention to students?

First, that TWC is a total package. The students receive TWC housing. They get matched with an internship site and, if they meet basic requirements, they are guaranteed a placement. Sometimes students are hesitant to start down a path of exploring a possibility if they don’t know that it is going to materialize into an actual offer. I think they’re getting multiple points of support and benefits with TWC that they probably would have trouble building if they were doing an internship all on their own. I also tell them this is an educational, academic experience. They’re getting a full semester’s worth of credit from us. They aren’t just doing this for the professional skills, they’ll also establish a network that will persist well beyond this semester and grow personally. The one thread that runs through all of the portfolios throughout the years is how much personal growth they’ve had, to gain that self-confidence, a sense of purpose of what they want to do and a sense of exploration. When you frame it more broadly like that, they see the value more than asking if they’ll be paid or whether it’ll turn into a job or how much value will be added to their resume. 

What is the single biggest benefit TWC provides to your university?

We are tuition-driven and we forego a significant amount of money per student who comes to TWC. We know we are foregoing a lot of revenue but do it because we feel this is so important. Plus, I get a course release and have a travel budget to come down and visit with our students in the semester, that costs money. And we do all of that because we recognize the value of the program. I tell the students, and they understand this because they know about money and are concerned with costs, if you can afford to be a Stockton student for the semester you can afford to be in D.C. for a semester. Stockton knows that unless we offer opportunities like this, a lot of our students won’t venture outside of southern New Jersey.

The internship creates opportunities that the students would not have by simply staying on campus. 

Michael Rodriguez, campus liaison at Stockton University.

Why should someone become a TWC liaison? What rewards from being a liaison would you identify?

Unless you are a large university, with a lot of resources, it would be very difficult to do what TWC does in-house. If Stockton had to create its own operation for internships in Washington, it just couldn’t do it the way we are currently organized, it would be prohibitively expensive. It makes our job much easier to have students go into an organization like TWC that has this total package. There’s a lot of value for me as a liaison in that I don’t have to create all of these things: find the students internships, find them housing, I don’t have to come and teach a class for them to have an evening course and I don’t have to provide residential life activities. All of that is in place with TWC. We wouldn’t be able to provide all of the value that TWC is capable of providing ourselves. Another reward is having the support I get from TWC. Having TWC actually present on our campus helps. There’s a tremendous value in that. There are brochures and other materials provided by TWC that I can pass along to students, I don’t have to create them. And it really helps being part of a broader community of campus liaisons. It is very reassuring. It helps me think through what I want to do, compare what we did with other universities. I get a lot of best practices from speaking with my fellow liaisons that I see twice a semester. 

We have a place of honor for TWC at Stockton. According to our alumni office, we have approximately 900 Stockton alumni in the D.C. area and many of them trace their career back to their TWC experience. Developing alumni living and working in D.C adds value to Stockton. I think having an alumni base that is regional as opposed to solely in southern New Jersey is incredibly valuable. We simply wouldn’t be able to send our students to D.C. and provide this level of value if we had to do it all in-house. 

The Washington Center

The Washington Center is the largest and most established student internship program in Washington, D.C. Since our founding, we've helped more than 60,000 young people translate their college majors into career paths. We use our scale and expertise to customize each student’s experience to be truly transformative.