Chi Vu reflects on “the incredible personal growth” that she’s experienced as an intern at a local digital products and services firm.
Vu, a third-year student in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), is currently enrolled in the Computer Science Professional Internship Program (CSPIP). As a result, she has been working at Saskatoon-based zu as a software developer intern since September 2023.
“My time at zu has been eye-opening so far. Right from the start, I received warm welcomes from the team, and everyone has been treating me like a valued team member,” she said. “The onboarding process was well-structured, with a list of action items that outlined a roadmap for my first few weeks. There were lots of pairing tasks, which allowed me to reach out to my teammates, ask questions, and learn through them.”
Through CSPIP—which is coordinated by the college’s Department of Computer Science—undergraduate students can engage in practical on-the-job experience with sponsoring companies prior to completing the final year of their bachelor’s degrees. The work placements commence after students have completed three years of the four-year Bachelor of Science program. The placements can start in May or September and be 12 or 16 months in duration.
Vu has had very positive experiences at zu so far, and she encourages other students to apply for CSPIP.
“You will learn a lot—not just about the work environment, but about yourself,” she said. “Back in school, I often wondered how useful my courses would be in the workplace. CSPIP gave me the answer to that question. It’s a window into the workings of a professional environment, a chance to observe different roles at play, and an assessment of whether a particular career aligns with your goals.”
Ellen Redlick, academic programs and outreach coordinator in the Department of Computer Science, said CSPIP enables students to take the skills they learn in the classroom and apply and hone them in the workplace. The internship program first began at USask more than 25 years ago, in 1997, and has since placed more than 400 students at companies across Canada.
“The Computer Science Professional Internship Program provides students the opportunity to improve key career skills—resumé writing, effective interviewing—and to better understand the job market, including what employers are looking for,” said Dr. Kevin Schneider (PhD), head of the Department of Computer Science. “In addition to employment income, the work experience enables students to perform better in their final year of a computer science degree and positions them exceptionally well for future career opportunities.”
In recent years, approximately 70 to 75 per cent of participating students have reported receiving offers to return to their interning company, either to continue working on a part-time basis as they complete their degree or for full-time employment after graduation—or, in some cases, both options. That demonstrates “how the internship is a highly effective tool for employers to build their talent pipelines,” said Redlick.
Students in CSPIP complete a professional development course prior to starting work at their internship placement. There is also an academic portion of the program that requires students to submit assignments on topics such as goal setting and prompts them to reflect on their work experiences.
“As the program coordinator, I get to see students evolve over the course of their internship placements through these academic check-ins,” Redlick said. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see students gain confidence and start leading projects or achieve new heights when bolstered by their employer’s mentorship.”
Justin Renneberg, a systems analyst at Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL), believes CSPIP was an integral part of his success in securing employment post-graduation. As an undergraduate student at USask, Renneberg enrolled in CSPIP and then had the opportunity to intern at FCL. He was later hired by the wholesaling, manufacturing, marketing, and administrative co-operative on a full-time basis after receiving his degree in 2020.
For Renneberg, the internship was a great experience that provided him with an opportunity to enhance his resumé.
“Before the internship I had no real experience working in IT or similar work. So, it felt like a good way to experience what it would be like on the job after graduating as well as gain any skills/useful knowledge beforehand,” he said.
Renneberg applied for the internship program because he felt it would be “a good way to get your foot in the door in the industry.” Other computer science students felt the same way; Renneberg now works at FCL with two other systems analysts who are USask graduates who also took part in CSPIP.
“The internship is a great way to get the next generation of computer scientists out there—not only for them to see what it is like, but also to show their employers what they can do,” he said. “Our team has been doing the internship program for eight years now, and every year we get to see someone with new ideas and a whole new way of thinking—and I feel like that is a big part as to why our team has been able to grow and branch out so much in the work that we do.”
Redlick said CSPIP emphasizes the importance of building relationships through an annual employer networking event that connects students with engaged employer partners and past internship program participants. The networking event was most recently held at USask in November 2023, with about 200 people in attendance.
“A lot of students have returned to their interning companies, some for many years, after our program,” Redlick said. “For those students who don’t return to the same company after graduation, having that work experience on their resumé gives them an advantage when job hunting after graduation.”
Professor Airini, USask’s provost and vice-president academic, said the Computer Science Professional Internship Program aligns with the USask plan titled Fostering Tomorrow’s Leaders: Learning, Teaching and the Student Experience 2019 – 2025. One of the five commitments outlined in the plan is preparing the learners the world needs.
“At USask, we are dedicated to advancing the development of core skills and enabling lifelong learning,” said Airini. “At USask learners are prepared for the jobs of today as well as for the jobs that are yet to be imagined. They are engaged, principled citizens and community leaders. We seek to equip our students with the ability, confidence, and courage to apply their skills and competencies in a variety of situations and contexts. CSPIP is an excellent example of an experiential learning program that enhances our students’ journey to becoming the graduates the world needs.”
Jan. 7, 2024, is the deadline for companies to submit job postings for CSPIP. The Computer Science Career Fair will be held on Jan. 10, and the deadline for students to apply to job postings is Jan. 14. Interviews will be arranged with selected students from Jan. 15 to Feb. 9. More information about hiring a computer science intern, including the 2023/24 recruitment timeline, is available on the Department of Computer Science website.