The Practicum Requirement

What is it?

The Political Science department faculty believe strongly that engagement in civic life, while an undergraduate student, makes your learning richer and better prepares you for your life beyond college. Our practicum requirement is not merely an “internship requirement” that you must check off, but is best integrated into your major both by when you choose to compete it and the work you do alongside the field experience itself.

How can it be fulfilled?

The department provides a number of curricular offerings that build the practicum into the course of study. These include the Chuck Green Civic Engagement Fellowship and POLI 216: Legislative Politics. The Chuck Green experience includes a 4-credit course in the Spring with a full-time summer project (with 1 academic credit) that fulfills the practicum. In Legislative Politics, each student is simultaneously enrolled in a 4-credit internship (typically with a legislator at the state capitol during the Spring semester), for a combined 8 credits. Other individual courses are offered from time to time that include a community-based component.

Outside of a course, the most common way to fulfill the practicum is by completing a 4-credit internship, registered as POLI 624, with a faculty member in the department as your academic supervisor. Your supervisor will guide you through the internship experience, typically by reading and responding to a series of journal entries over the course of the term, culminating in an end-of-term reflection or academic paper. Working with the faculty member, you can set the direction and goals of the internship. For some, the internship is about exploring potential careers. For others, it is an opportunity to test theory in practice or to move from the abstract to the applied. Whatever the goals, we believe that the process of actively thinking about what you are doing, while you are doing, is what makes the experience richer. As the American philosopher, John Dewey, wrote in 1938, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

Summer practicums and fee waiver

You can also complete the practicum through a 1-credit summer internship.  A 1-credit summer internship should be equivalent (in number of hours) to a 4-credit spring or fall internship (at least 140 hours).  Most students are eligible for a one-time 1-credit summer practicum fee waiver provided: 1) You are a declared political science major; 2) You have not already fulfilled the practicum requirement; and 3) your internship is fully registered via Handshake by May 20, with a completed learning contract and all signatures/approvals from your political science faculty supervisor and internship site supervisor.

Note: If you elect to register for two or more summer credits, then you must pay for all summer credits and are not eligible for the one-time 1-credit practicum fee waiver.

Does my 1-credit summer internship count as one of my nine courses for the major?

No. The requirements for the major include both a practicum experience and nine courses (36 credits). Taking an internship for 4 credits (Poli 624) counts as one of your nine courses, but summer internships typically earn only 1 credit (Poli 621), in which case you need to earn at least 3 more credits, which is usually done by taking an extra intermediate political science class.

Internships completed while on study away may also fulfill the practicum. Check with your advisor or the department chair.

How Do I Get a Faculty Supervisor for my Internship?

Students usually ask a faculty member they have worked with, or their advisor, to supervise their internship.  If you are unsure of which faculty might be a good fit or be available in a given semester, check with your advisor.

Other Questions

What counts as a “political science” practicum? Will any internship count?

We employ a broad understanding of what constitutes an appropriate site or opportunity for a political science practicum. Certainly, many types of internships easily qualify, such as election campaigns, offices in any branch of government, advocacy groups and lobbying organizations, legal practices, and most non-profit community organizations. But the work that you are doing for an organization is more important than the nature of the organization itself. Tending to the Rose Garden as the White House summer gardening intern might get you very close to the center of power, but may not provide as meaningful political work as something, say, more “grassroots” in the Twin Cities.

Also, the writing that you agree to do with your faculty supervisor can go a long way into making an internship an appropriate practicum. Filing papers in a law firm might not itself appear very “political,” but with guided reflection or reaction papers to the things you might be observing, more meaningful issues can be brought into focus. We encourage you to discuss potential internships with a member of the department, or the department chair, from an early stage.

How do I find an internship?

Begin with a visit to the Academic Internships section of the Career Exploration website: http://www.macalester.edu/career-exploration and follow up with a visit to their office on the first floor of Kagin. They have many resources tailored to Political Science, such as lists of sites where students have worked. The Director of the Internship Program, Mike Porter, also has a wealth of knowledge about opportunities in and beyond the Twin Cities. Because of Macalester’s experience with so many students over many years, you will be able to get good advice about internships that have provided particularly good opportunities. Not only that, you’ll find that there are many organizations that have enjoyed strong relationships with Macalester and are actively seeking out students like you.

Should I just do one internship?

The practicum is the minimum requirement for the major, but many students have gone on to complete two or more, or have established great relationships with an organization and have continued there for more than one semester. Any time you complete an internship for credit, you will need a faculty supervisor. You do not need supervision for any not-for-credit internships completed after your practicum is fulfilled.

Does a study away internship count as one of my two courses from outside the department?

One of the requirements of the major is that no more than two of your nine courses come from outside the department. A study away internship is an exception: it does not count as one of those two courses. So, in your study away semester, you could take two courses that could be approved for the major, and also complete an internship in fulfillment of the practicum requirement. Check with the department chair for approval.