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MAFEL Best Practices/Resources

 

What is an Internship?

How to Structure a Successful Internship Program - Top 10 Characteristics

Providing a Quality Orientation - Top Ten Best Practices

Performance Management - Top 10 Characteristics

Evaluation-Top 10 Best Practices

Related Resources

 

What is an Internship?

An academic internship is a form of experiential education that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skill development in a professional setting.  Students earn academic credit, or there is some other connection to a degree-granting, educational institution.  This work/learning arrangement is overseen by a faculty or staff member of an educational institution and by a designated employee of an organization.  The internship is usually the length or equivalent of an academic term, may be part-time or full-time, paid or unpaid.  An integral component of the experience that distinguishes it from other types of work is one or more forms of structured and deliberate reflection contained within learning agendas or objectives.

--Definition developed in 2002 by Mike True (of Messiah College) in collaboration with other professionals

 

Photo courtesy of mudpig on Flickr.

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Top 10 Characteristics of a Successful Internship Program:

Structure

 

In April of 2010 MAFEL members gathered to discuss the structural elements of successful internship programs that lead to positive experiences for students and internships sites.  Participating MAFEL members represented both academic internship programs and internship sites.  Using the group’s collective wisdom through a facilitated process, we generated an extensive list and then narrowed our focus to include only the top 10 structural elements.

Though it’s common for students to complete internships without the support of an academic, for-credit program, as a best-practice internships are a partnership between academic institutions, internship sites, and students.  Each has its own objectives, and the partnership’s structure has a major impact on how each objective will be met or unmet.  MAFEL endorses the following best practices for the structure of internship programs, and the relationship between academic programs, internship sites and interns.

Plan in advance for success.

Taking a thoughtful approach to intern support will lead to greater success.  Academic internship programs should be centrally coordinated and should support students by establishing a learning contract and learning objectives.  Internship sites should have a centrally coordinated internship program with the support of organizational leadership.  Sites should define goals in advance of recruiting and intern, and each intern should have a specific position description.

Design substantial, meaningful work assignments.

Interns who know the importance of their work perform better and are able to work more independently on their assignments as well as their learning objectives.  Academic programs should help students find internships that are a good match for their course of study and personality.  Sites should explain the importance of work assignments to interns, and every internship should include projects for which the intern has distinct ownership.  In total, the expectations of an internship should match the academic institution’s expectation for credits per hour of class and out-of-class time.

 

Provide a designated workspace and necessary resources.

To be effective in their roles, interns need equipment, supplies and resources to produce high-quality work.  When a site invests in its interns, the result will be higher quality work, greater achievement of academic objectives, and a better overall experience for the intern.  Academic programs should advocate for this investment in interns by internship sites.

Orient and train interns.

Setting clear expectations is the cornerstone of any partnership.  Academic programs should orient interns to their learning objectives and expectations for completing academic projects based on their experience.  Sites should orient interns to their organization and train them in their assignments.

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Make interns part of the team.

Teamwork means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Sites should ensure that interns are introduced to staff, including front-line service staff, administrative staff and leadership.  Interns should be included in staff meetings, employee recognition activities and have the opportunity to collaborate with coworkers, including staff and other interns.  Academic programs should advocate for the full integration of interns into organizational life.

Utilize a structure for strong supervision and regular feedback.

Interns can benefit from and expect regular direction and feedback, which for a site supervisor or academic program representative can be more easily said than done.  Sites and academic programs should develop systems for regular communication with interns, so that these important interactions remain a priority. 

 

Practice a structured evaluation process.

Each partner’s objectives will be more fully met when a structured evaluation system is used.  Based on the objectives established and documented by all three partners at the internship’s beginning, the intern should participate in a mid-term and final evaluation.  This will increase performance and enhance the intern’s learning experience.

 

Provide opportunities for professional development.

Internships are a learning experience.  Sites should provide access to resources for intern training and professional development, including opportunities to network with professionals from the intern’s field.  Academic programs should support interns with career-related training.

 

Require reflection exercises.

Reflection is a process designed to enhance an intern’s learning experience.  Academic programs should require interns to participate in reflection exercises such as journaling.  Sites should support interns by providing time for reflection and by assisting with the requirements of reflection projects.  An additional role for internship sites is to help the intern translate and communicate about their experience for the purpose of job searching.

 

Provide closure.

Interns change and grow through their experiences, and an opportunity to close their internships with a culminating experience will enhance learning.  Final presentations, exit interviews, and recognition should be provided by both sites and academic programs.

 

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Photos courtesy of totalAldo and Alex Proimos on Flickr

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MAFEL’s Top Ten Best Practices for

Providing Orientations

 

Provide Overview of the Organization

As interns come into an organization they may only have a vague understanding of the organization and its mission. By providing an overview of the organization, interns become familiar with different aspects of the organization such as structure, chain of command, community impact and budget breakdown.

Go In Depth with the Mission

Coming into the organization, interns may know the mission, but might lack any information beyond the words. By taking time to go over the history of the organization, highlighting key changes and/or growth that the organization has experienced or highlighting information specific to the population or clients served, it will help give the interns a more well rounded understanding of the organization.

Go over the Position Description

Take time to review the position description for the internship. Orientation is a good time to go over expectations related to the position, lay out a timeline for the work, set goals and discuss any academic requirements.

Policies and Procedures

Interns will only know as much as you tell them, so be specific about the types of policies and procedures that are important to their success at the organization such as drug/alcohol policies, sexual harassment policies, confidentiality,  and intellectual property. Look at what kind of information is provided to staff to see what type of information should be included for interns.

Set Expectations

It’s important to set expectations with the intern from the beginning to ensure success. Is the start and end time strict or is a flexible schedule appropriate? What is the timeline for the position? Making sure interns know what is expected of them will help make they feel more comfortable at the organization and help give them a better understanding of their role.

Organizational Culture

Every organization will have its own unique culture, so help the interns understand the culture of the organization by introducing them to staff, making sure they feel comfortable in the common spaces, showing them where they can eat lunch and explaining things like company internet policies, dress code, and how general communication works at the organization.

Tour of Facility

Take the intern on a tour of the office. Make sure to include things that are unique to the office. Are there separate eating areas for staff and volunteers? Can interns use the refrigerator? Explaining things like how technology works and showing them their work space can help the intern feel like part of the team. This is also a good time to introduce the interns to key staff at the organization. If staff aren’t available to meet each intern in person, consider having staff bios be part of the intern paperwork so they can learn about each person’s role at the organization.

Explain Communication Procedures

Is it appropriate to stop by someone’s office or does an intern need to make an appointment first? What is the chain of communication at the organization? What will the structure be like for check-ins or receiving feedback? Explaining how communication works within an organization can help ensure a productive and effective work environment.

Paperwork

Set aside time for the intern to complete any necessary paperwork. This could include demographic information, a background check, waivers or releases or any academic paperwork. This is another opportunity for interns to ask any lingering questions.

Upcoming Events

Make sure to invite interns to any upcoming trainings or events that are happening.  It could help give them additional information about the organization and make them feel as if they’re a valued member of the organization.

 

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Top 10 Characteristics of a Successful Internship Program:

Performance Management

 

 

In June of 2010 MAFEL members gathered to discuss the performance management elements of successful internship programs that lead to positive experiences for students and internships sites.  Participating MAFEL members represented both academic internship programs and internship sites.  Using the group’s collective wisdom through a facilitated process, we generated an extensive list and then narrowed our focus to include only the top 10 performance management elements.

Though it’s common for students to complete internships without the support of an academic, for-credit program, as a best-practice internships are a partnership between academic institutions, internship sites, and students.  As with any partnership, communication is a major factor determining whether objectives will be met or unmet.  This is especially true for internships because interns are typically new to the workforce and need strong guidance in order to meet learning objectives and work objectives at the same time.  MAFEL endorses the following best practices for intern performance management and the relationship between academic programs, internship sites and interns.

 

Plan in Advance for Success

Develop internship program policies.

Internship program policies are the foundation for effective performance management on an organizational level.  Both academic internship programs and internship sites should establish, document and communicate policies that set boundaries for interns and for the partnership between the academic program, internship site, and student.

Develop position descriptions.

Position descriptions are the foundation for effective performance management on an individual level.  From the recruitment stage of an internship before an intern is placed with a site, a position description is how a site documents its needs.  The document allows a potential intern and their academic program to screen the opportunity to ensure it matches personal and academic objectives.  Making an offer and accepting an internship that has been documented in the form of a position description is an agreement by the academic program, internship site and intern to fulfill the documented responsibilities.

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Train internship supervisors.

Supervising interns is as vigorous as supervising any employee, and in fact may be more challenging for a few reasons.  Interns tend to be new to the workforce with less experience than the average employee; they have personal learning objectives in addition to the site’s objectives; they are temporary, requiring supervisors to train-in new interns frequently; and they are often part-time, requiring supervisors to be flexible when scheduling meetings.  Sites should train internship supervisors in general management skills in addition to special considerations for interns.

 

Set Clear and Realistic Expectations for Interns

 

Establish a learning agreement.

A learning agreement is the documentation of an intern’s learning objectives, usually set in consultation with an academic institution representative and agreed upon by a representative of the site.  The site agrees to support an intern’s learning objectives in exchange for the service they provide to the organization. 

Utilize a goal-setting process for interns.

The position description and learning agreement should be translated into measurable goals and objectives for use as a performance management tool.  Interns may set personal goals within the scope of the internship that don’t necessarily fit within the learning agreement and position description.  Altogether, the responsibilities of the internship should be achievable within an appropriate number of hours per credit.

 

Orient and train interns.

Once the position description, learning agreement and goals have been established, interns should be oriented and trained.  In addition to the responsibilities of the internship, interns should be oriented to the organization and to the policies that affect their work.  After approximately two weeks, the intern should check-in with a representative from the internship site and academic program to ensure they are progressing appropriately.

 

Develop a Structure for Evaluation and Feedback

 

Practice a structured evaluation process.

Each partner’s objectives will be more fully met when a structured evaluation system is used.  Based on the measurable goals and objectives set at the internship’s beginning, the intern should participate in a mid-term and final evaluation.  Evaluations should include feedback on each partner by each partner – site, academic program and intern.  This will enhance the intern’s performance and learning experience.

 

Require reflection exercises.

Reflection is a process designed to enhance an intern’s learning experience.  Academic programs should require interns to participate in reflection exercises such as journaling.  Sites should support interns by providing time for reflection and by assisting with the requirements ofreflection projects.  An additional role for internship sites is to help the intern translate and communicate about their experience for thepurpose of job searching.

 

Resolve Conflicts Effectively

 

Empower interns to advocate for themselves.

To their academic program, an intern is the advocate for their site’s objectives, and likewise the intern is the advocate for their academic program objectives to their site.  It’s common for interns to be unprepared to advocate for their own needs in the midst of competing objectives.  Therefore, sites and academic programs should empower interns to advocate for themselves by communicating the expectation for self-advocacy and alleviating any concern for negative consequences.

Establish a protocol for conflict resolution.

Avoidance of conflict can have such a detrimental effect on an internship that sites, academic programs and interns should agree to a conflict resolution protocol at the beginning of the internship.  This will help to initiate conflict resolution processes before the conflict may escalate beyond the possibility of resolution.

 

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Photos courtesy of jurvetson and bslmmrs on Flickr

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Related Resources

National Society for Experiential Education (www.nsee.org) publishes the NSEE Quarterly, resource papers, monographs, and books, including:

  • The National Directory of Internships
  • The Experienced Hand: A Student Manual for Making the Most of an Internship
  • The Internship as Partnership: A Handbook for Campus-Based Coordinators & Advisors
  • The Internship as Partnership: A Handbook for Businesses, Nonprofits, and Government Agencies
  • Legal Issues in Experiential Education
  • Program Evaluation Handbook
  • The Role of Service-Learning in Educational Reform
  • Combining Service and Learning: A Resource Book for Community and Public Service
  • Service-Learning Reader: Reflections and Perspectives on Service
  • Research Agenda for Combining Service and Learning in the 1990s
  • Strengthening Experiential Education within your Institution
  • Origins and Implications of the AmeriCorps National Service Program
  • and other publications covering issues of practice and application, rationale and theory, and research

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MAFEL welcome page | about us | membership information | meetings & events

MAFEL best practices/resources |scholarship info |connect/post opportunities