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Best practices for Student Internships

At a recent meeting of the National Convergence Technology Center’s (CTC) IT faculty community of practice, known as the Convergence College Network (CCN), participants discussed paid internships. This agenda item was motivated by the National Visiting Committee, an annual review board that evaluates the CTC’s grant efforts, who consider paid internships a best practice. The committee asked the CTC to foster the sharing of successful strategies and logistics related to paid internships.

By way of reference, the 29 attendees at the meeting were split in half between those who do place students in paid internships (45%) and those who do not (45%). The other 10% were planning to offer paid internships soon.

Below are some highlights from this discussion.

* Consider recent graduates with jobs in the industry as avenues to identify possible internship opportunities. Creating this sort of alumni “back channel” can sometimes get students placed in internships that never get publicly posted. This can be a benefit in regions with big competition among multiple colleges.

* Another good avenue for internship opportunities are the members of your Business and Industry Leadership Team (BILT), who should be quite familiar with the content of your program and the quality of your students.

* While most schools have campus-wide workforce/career departments that handle internships, several schools supplement that with departmental career placement staff that works to connect with local employers, manage internship openings, and coordinate student placement.

* Other schools rely solely on the students to do the legwork and locate their own internships.

* If an internship turns into a full-time hire, one school makes it a policy to contact the employer to find if the newly-vacated internship spot might be filled by another student.

* Several schools work hard to gather feedback from students and employers after an internship ends to implement any needed adjustments to make the program as effective and successful as possible.

* One big challenge is unpaid internships. Students who work full-time cannot replace that income with an unpaid internship. In these situations where students cannot “afford” an unpaid internship, two schools offer students a replacement option: a capstone-style course that focuses on hands-on projects and group work. One school connects with local non-profits so that the student group capstone project might benefit the community.

* One school implements a detailed format for internships that includes both an entry interview and an exit interview with the student, the faculty sponsor, and the employer.

* It can be a challenge to accurately measure the impact and success of internships. How do you quantify how much the students learned from the internship or how the internship ultimately benefitted the student’s career?

* One school observed that while in the past students seemed reluctant to commute for an internship, it seemed that more and more students are more willing to commute longer distances perhaps because they appreciate the value of internships.

* More than one school requires students to submit weekly work reports during their internship.

* One school noted that students don’t often check their e-mail, so they often post internship opening updates via school social media platforms.

* Another school requires all internship students to create a LinkedIn profile.

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