Sunday, June 09, 2013
The Internship Condundrum
Wise and worldly readers, have you seen a community college find an elegant way around these obstacles? I think we play a difficult hand well, but if there’s a better way, I’d love to hear it.
I am also PT faculty who supervise seniors completing the same type of internship that I did many moons ago. Since you work essentially FT for 13 weeks, money can be a hardship. However, every semester 30 students sign up to do just that. They know going in that this is the priority. Some of these students are your traditional college age/live at home/pt job but some are single parents, some are married, some are caring for aging parents. In the past 4 years, we haven't had anybody have to drop out. It wasn't easy but it is doable. We even managed to handle one student going into labor about a month and a half early.
The advantage to our internships is that students actually get to do really work, not copying and filing grunt work. There is some of that but the learning agreements with the placements require them to get hands on opportunities in the field. This includes group counseling, IEP's, grant work, etc.
But really for us, the career building aspect is secondary; the key curricular goal that internships fulfill is knowledge integration and application. As such, we require students to keep a journal about their experience and then write a paper at the end that ties in their experience with what they have learned in the classroom. You've taken classes on state and local politics and policy-making, how does your experience working for our local government relate this knowledge? To the extent students haven't had much classroom experience, there's not much to integrate and apply.
We're thinking about how we can meet these curricular goals with our non-traditional students, as we recognize that this population will have a more difficult time fulfilling the time requirements of our internship. But even for these students, we'll ask them to complete this experiential learning experience later in their undergraduate career, so that it still serves the integrative function.
I'm so pleased to see other comments pointing out that in most cases, unpaid internships are illegal, and that these employers are breaking the law. There are exceptions, of course, but the key thing is: Is the employer gaining financially from the work of an unpaid intern? Is the intern replacing someone who had been paid to do the job before?
I run a paid internship program from New Mexico Highlands University in northern, NM. My students cannot afford unpaid internships (like many students elsewhere), and if they were not being paid to use their media arts skills, such as programming, web development, video & multimedia production, they would instead be taking minimum wage service jobs.
Our internship program is designed to serve the NM cultural industry, putting our students to work in museums, libraries, historic sites and other cultural organizations. Our original program evolved in to the AmeriCorps Cultural Technology program, a unique program that places our graduates in full year paid internships with support and trained on-site mentors. The museums bring half the match, and in turn, get a young, technologically skilled, enthusiastic intern for a year. Their investment in the student gives the student confidence in their value- as opposed to feeling undervalued after spending 4-5 years earning a degree (often the first in their family).