The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC) has been, for nearly 40 years, advancing experiential learning in higher education. TWC, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization, has worked with hundreds of colleges, thousands of students and scores of internship sites to create valuable academic internship programs. For the first time TWC is making its standards public to help inform best practice for all academic internship experiences.
We propose that universities, colleges and educational institutions embrace this Internship Bill of Rights and Responsibilities to create structured learning conditions based on empirical evidence for both interns and internship sites. The chart below explains how the intern, intern supervisor and educational institution can work together effectively.
Foster a professional environment free of discrimination, where the intern enjoys the same respect as other team members.
Maintain professionalism in all internship interactions, and respect office policies and project deadlines.
Coordinate and implement structured pre-internship advising sessions to set appropriate expectations for success in the workplace environment and guide students to identify an internship site that matches their professional and academic goals.
“My internship was an amazing learning opportunity but one of the aspects I enjoyed the most was the way my supervisor integrated me into the daily activities and always made me feel like I was an important member of the team. I interned at a press office in Congress and I had multiple opportunities to attend important events and meet important figures such as the Dalai Lama. I woke up every day looking forward my commute, knowing that where I was traveling was both a welcoming environment and place for unlimited growth opportunities.”
Facilitate goal setting with each intern. Monitor and provide feedback regularly about progress.
Establish individual and professional goals and commit to pursuing them.
Provide intern with framework for Individual Development Plan to evaluate current skill set and specific areas for growth, and share directly with the intern supervisor.
“Completing an Individual Development Plan has been a critical part of my experience in Washington. It not only allowed me to think about my strengths and weaknesses but it also helped me set ambitious professional and personal goals that I was able to achieve in just 15 weeks. As aviation major, one of my goals was to develop a professional network of contacts. Through my internship, I had the opportunity to meet hundreds of aviation professionals and high-ranking officials of the Federal Aviation Administration. I know this network will become invaluable in the future.”
Allocate resources to prepare for intern. Explain organizational culture and structure.
Understand work environment, organizational structure and culture.
Require the intern supervisor and intern to complete an Internship Agreement outlining professional and academic commitments and review with intern supervisor.
“I was able to take advantage of the numerous learning opportunities at my internship because I had a structured and supportive environment. On the first day, I had an orientation and was formally introduced to the entire team. I was given a package and a book with all the information I needed to understand the goals of the organization. My internship supervisor met with the team every week and every time I faced a challenge or had a question he helped me find a solution or referred me to other colleagues that could assist me. I had a great support system and I can’t believe how much I was able to learn in such a short period of time.”
Facilitate opportunities for intern to apply academic skills and knowledge to workplace environment.
Actively use workplace experience to enhance academic growth and achievement.
Make academic credit available for the internship experience, provided it meets standards predetermined by the credit-awarding institution. Provide supplemental seminars and courses that require the intern to reflect on broader aspects of the experience through an academic lens.
“This program allowed me to use lessons I learned from previous experiences and courses and incorporate them into my internship. I was able to use my environmental knowledge when I had to do some research related to water pollution. My background helped me understand the information, and that made me realize how important my classes are.”
Identify intern successes and strengths and offer constructive feedback on progress toward goals.
Reflect systematically and deeply on the entire internship and its relevance for career path and continue personal and professional development.
Require interns to document work and accomplishments reflect on experiences and identify specific leadership skills.
“Before my internship, I steadfastly wanted to pursue an international volunteer position such as the Peace Corps. But now I’m starting to see a different perspective – not because of the environment or the volunteer work itself, but because of the other possibilities my internship helped me to see. I now have my sights set on the Foreign Service and possibly an advanced degree.”
Provide meaningful projects and tasks that foster learning and application.
Take initiative, identifying challenging learning opportunities that maximize the internship experience.
Conduct site visit to discuss intern’s initial progress and future expectations in formal setting with intern’s supervisor.
Much of the advice I received before I started my internship was to contribute and make a difference. I was skeptical. What kind of difference could I make? More than I could predict. Within the first few weeks, I was attending video shoots and running the second camera.
Cultivate an environment that promotes mentorship for career planning. Provide advice, counseling and support to intern.
Proactively seek and embrace mentoring relationships.
Provide intern with an educator who serves as facilitator, mentor and evaluator during the experience.
“My internship supervisor was my mentor. He was someone who would spend two hours at a time talking with me about life, the mission we hold dear to our hearts at our internship site, and what it means to advocate for the people we serve. Many times I went to him for advice, insight and wisdom in areas that I needed assistance with. And each time, he would stop whatever he was doing and listened, always doing what he could to help me grow. This experience was a milestone and helped me realize that a leader not only leads, he or she also mentors and gives back.”
Provide adequate instruction, resources, opportunities and training.
Demonstrate acquisition of predetermined proficiencies and additional skills and competencies.
Engage intern with activities that complement the internship experience, such as leadership training, civic engagement and professional development workshops.
“Coming into the program, I had been a tentative leader and often chose to let someone else lead a group or project. Through my time in Washington D.C., I had multiple opportunities to step into a leadership role in which I have often shied away from in the past. I was able to get a small group of students together to participate in athletic events. Although the group started out relatively small we were able to spread the word and get a pretty decent sized group by the conclusion of the semester.”
Build an environment that integrates interns into work and social activities.
Maximize opportunities to become part of the team.
Engage the intern in a structured process to help the intern systematically evaluate potential internship opportunities to help determine a match that meets intern’s academic and professional goals.
“I was surprised by how substantial the assignments were at my internship. I was tasked with journalistic work, compiling research and preparing documents for judges. There were even opportunities to work personally with the Chief Judges. It really was a great environment with great people. Going into the internship I didn’t expect to cover high profile events or be included as a full member of the team, but I was. It was so exciting to be a part of it and I’m grateful they gave me the opportunity.”
Make it possible for the intern to interact with colleagues throughout the organization and within their field of interest.
Take full advantage of opportunities to network with professionals and peers.
Create opportunities for intern to conduct informational interviews with professionals within the internship site, the alumni network of the educational institution or intern’s field of interest.
“My internship organized its fall conference where I had the pleasure of meeting a high-ranking executive from a prestigious financial institution. The conference itself is a massive gathering of all the most powerful CEOs and executives from all kinds of financial industries. I, working tirelessly in logistics, was granted access to the dinner and was seated right next to the executive. We talked for over an hour. I exchanged business cards with him, and the next day sent a follow up email regarding a future internship. It took him a while to respond but he recommended me for an internship at his company.”
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