What Does a Quality Internship Look Like?

What Does a Quality Internship Look Like?

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Christian Holm
January 29, 2016

Internships have become a critical component of undergraduate education with experiential education programs becoming the new norm. This trend makes students and institutions ask this question: What does a quality internship look like?


On Thursday, Jan.21, three internship site supervisors joined The Washington Center for a panel at the Association of American Colleges and Universities 2016 Annual Meeting in downtown D.C. to discuss quality internships. Lee Bosner from the International Institute of Global Resilience, Niraj Ray, founder of Cultivate the City, Michelle Williams from the Polaris Project and TWC’s Chief Academic Officer Kelly Eaton spoke to an audience of university leaders about what makes for a successful learning experience in an internship.


Bosner and Ray spoke to the importance of designing meaningful projects for students to complete during their internship. For Bosner, this begins with finding an intern whose academic training and interests will apply to the work of his organization. Ray, by contrast, prefers to allow motivated students to get to know Cultivate the City for a week or two. He helps students reflect on their professional goals and then designs a project with them to help achieve those goals.


Williams, who serves as director of talent acquisition and management at Polaris, discussed the importance of mentorship in an internship. When a department at Polaris decides to host an intern, it is important that they have more than just a work plan. The new supervisor needs to be prepared to advise the student on career planning. For Williams, this insight is personal.


“Being able to put myself in an intern’s shoes has really helped me be a better mentor,” Williams said. “When I was an intern, I relied heavily on the guidance and support of my supervisors and I think every intern benefits enormously from having that.”


Eaton concluded the conversation by emphasizing the importance of building partnerships with internship hosts when thinking about what makes for quality learning in an internship.


“It is really in the individual internship setting where things have to come together,” she said.

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