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.”

Other students complete the practicum through a not-for-credit internship, such as a summer opportunity. Typically, a not-for-credit opportunity should be equivalent (in number of hours) to a 4-credit internship (140 hours). If you seek to fulfill the practicum in this way, you must be approved for this before the internship begins and will still be expected to complete the journaling/writing component with a faculty supervisor. Not-for-credit internships may not be counted for the requirement retroactively.

Internships completed while on study away may also fulfill the practicum. We advise you to check with your advisor in the department, or the department chair, as you are making your plans for a study away.

How Do I Get a Faculty Supervisor for my Internship?

Many students are already working with an advisor in the department when they seek an internship. Even so, all students are asked to submit a request for an internship supervisor through a central process using this form. We have found it necessary to try to balance the number of internships that each faculty member is supervising at any one time, so this allows us to allocate internships more evenly. In most cases, you can expect that you will get your preferred faculty supervisor, but the online form asks you to name a second possible supervisor.

Regarding this form, students who are doing a legislative internship through Professor Julie Dolan’s Legislative Politics courses do not need to complete this form. And, this does not apply to internships completed for credit through a supervised study away program.

Other Questions

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

We employ a very broad understanding of what constitutes an appropriate site or opportunity for a political science practicum, though there still are limits. 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 of 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?

Macalester College provides significant support to make this easy. You should begin with a visit to the Internship Program’s website: and then 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 three 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. Once your practicum is fulfilled, you will not need supervision for any not-for-credit internships.

If I fulfill the practicum with a not-for-credit internship, does it still count as one of my nine courses?

No. As stated in the Catalog [ ], the requirements for the major include both a practicum experience and nine courses. Taking an internship for credit (Poli 624) counts as a course, but if you fulfill the practicum with a not-for-credit internship, you will need to take another course in its place.

Is there a form for a non-credit bearing internship, the way there is a form for credit-bearing internships? 

No. If you seek to fulfill the practicum requirement through a not-for-credit internship, there is no form. Before you begin the internship, ask a member of the Political Science faculty to supervise you, and be clear about the requirements. Some faculty ask for weekly journals; others have less journaling but ask for a longer essay at the end. Once you have finished the internship, ask them to email the department chair, or write that email yourself with a cc: to the faculty who supervised you. The department chair will add a note on Degree Works and the Registrar’s Office will “check the box” indicating that you have completed the practicum.

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.