Internships – March 17, 2009

Summary: Sylvia Suttor from Linguistics presented their internship course, LING 385.  The course used to be offered every 2 or 3 years but has recently been offered more frequently to meet increased student demand.  It is an experiential course with variable credit (1-6) which follows a schedule of one class meeting at the beginning of the term and roughly bi-weekly individual student-instructor meetings during the term with student presentations at the end of the term.  Students are either placed in established positions (mostly in clinical settings in speech pathology at the University or in teaching contexts, e.g., in elementary schools working with ESL issues) by the course coordinator or are able to elect the course having obtained an internship on their own.  In the latter case, the department must approve the internship, which must be unpaid and should be focused on community service or research.  The course is offered on a credit/no-credit basis and the awarding of credit is based on the number of hours worked and the presentation at the end.  Only upper-level Linguistics majors are eligible to enroll in the course, and they may use the course toward the major.  The course counts as part of the faculty’s normal teaching assignment.  It used to rotate among faculty but has recently been taught by the same person who has developed a number of internship relationships in the University and local community.

Issues: There are several issues related to the obtaining of internships and receiving academic credit for them.  First and foremost is the issue of whether or not a student needs to or should receive credit for an internship.  In terms of College and academic program requirements, this is not a necessity.  However, in recognizing that internships can be an integral part of a student’s educational experience and can play a valuable role in his or her academic and career decisions, the question arises of how explicitly and extensively the connection between the internship experience and its meaningful integration into an academic context needs to be made for the purposes of awarding credit.  On the purely practical level there is also the issue that for a variety of reasons, many employers require that students receive academic credit in order to be given an internship.  The Career Center routinely explains the difficulties of and constraints on earning internship credit at UM to employers and students, and in the case of the latter, general and department advisors may also discuss the student’s rationale for earning credit and the procedures and opportunities for doing so.  In the case where the earning of credit is mandatory or desired, the issue then turns on whether the opportunity is readily available to the student.  A relatively small number of departments have an established internship course, which in the vast majority of cases is only available to majors.  There is also the option of independent study courses, but this requires that the student locate a faculty member willing to oversee the work, which can be a challenge for precisely that population for whom a departmental internship course is not an option, namely lower-level and/or undeclared students.  The availability of both internship and independent study courses raises the further issue of staffing and instructional resources since such courses are often taken on as an overload or do not have the normal ratio of work to credit hours.

Other Models: Among the departments attending the Brown Bag, German, Economics, and Romance Languages shared descriptions of their internship courses.

  • German: German has the equivalent of a half-time position dedicated to developing internships and placing students in them.  These internships are open to any student.  The department also has two associated courses, a 1 cr prep course offered in the Winter semester, and a 3 cr graded internship course offered in the Fall semester after the student has completed the internship.  The internship course has three requirements: 1) the completion of an internship of at least 8 weeks in a German-speaking country; 2) a long paper detailing the work involved, written in German; and 3) a powerpoint presentation.
  • Economics: Econ’s internship course (ECON 299) is available to majors only and enrollment in it must be approved by a department advisor, who is listed as the instructor of record.  The course itself does not have any requirements (other than evidence of successful completion of the internship) as it was designed purely as a means of accommodating majors in their pursuit of unpaid internships, and is offered on a credit/no-credit basis.
  • Romance: Romance has two divergent models.  The French section’s course is similar to the German model.  There is a dedicated instructor who coordinates internship placements and teaches the internship course.  The Spanish model is very hands off, similar to Econ’s, but as a result is not as consistent or successful as the French version.

Recommendations: With the rise in interest in internships among students at all levels; the increasing importance of an internship experience in making career decisions and obtaining positions post-graduation; and in the face of constraints on instructional staff to teach internship and independent study courses, it seems prudent for departments and the College at large to be as flexible as possible in considering a variety of models, ranging from the ideal of a course that requires substantive articulation of an internship’s connection to a student’s academic program and/or reflective educational goals to models that simply enable students to obtain an internship (unpaid, requiring credit) that contributes to their educational and/or career decisions and goals.


Addendum: Since the date of this Brown Bag, a new internship course, UC 225 was approved and will begin being offered Fall 2010.  This course is designed for first- and second-year undeclared students.


LSA Internship website

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