Student Internships Research Paper Starter

Student Internships

(Research Starters)

Student internships represent a unique, innovative, nontraditional educational approach based on experiential learning. Internships take students out into the community and the real world to internship sites for experiences in the field. Internships that are challenging and high-quality have proven to be an effective and efficacious approach that has many advantages and few disadvantages. Research has shown that there is a direct correlation between the internships in which students have served and the ultimate career paths which they select.



Curriculum Organization > Student Internships


Internships, which originated in the United States in the early 1900s, are work-based educational experiences that relate to specific jobs, positions, occupations or professions. They are career-oriented curricular endeavors of practical application. Students are placed as interns with a wide variety of sponsoring organizations based on their individual fields of interest. They can serve internships in the arts, education, health, communications, business and industry, technology and many other areas. Students are released from school for part of the school day or school year in order to work a variable number of required hours on a part-time basis for a designated period. Student interns receive on-the-job, one-on-one training in a work setting from skilled professionals, who provide the knowledge and expertise of their field. Students learn by doing in actual situations through direct, hands-on experiences. They are evaluated and assessed by both their school internship coordinator and their onsite professional supervisor or mentor using an authentic, competency- and performance-based model, portfolios and exhibitions. Among the many positive educational outcomes of internships are practical experience, new skills, and improved attitudes and behaviors.

This article primarily focuses on pre-college internships-programs especially for the high school student population. The high school students who intern are pursuing and participating in internships as interns or internees are typically eleventh- and twelfth-graders-juniors and seniors. Although some schools are creating internships for middle-grade students, these are somewhat more controversial. High-school student internships are precursors to later college internships.

Guided, effective, high-quality internships are increasingly being recognized as integral elements and vital components of students' educational or academic programs. Internships play a valuable role in students' learning experiences as they do work that is both important and challenging. Community-based internships requiring on-the-job training provide a pathway for promoting meaningful youth-developmental educational experiences, and represent a distinctly innovative approach to high school (Bazzoni, 2000; Hendrie, 2004; Hirsch, 1974; Littke, 2004).

Littke (2004) defines internships as "real work integrated into the everyday world of the school" (p. 124). Internships constitute interdisciplinary learning that is 'truly integrated' into the community, and serve as a unique form of learner-centered education. The concept of an internship is to put learning into practice--to extend learning into applied experiences in which students actively participate. Internships combine classroom learning (independent study) and real-world experiential learning (work by students). They are work-based educational experiences that relate to specific jobs, positions, occupations, or professions. Students serve and complete temporary project assignments at the work site (Bazzoni, 2000; Stasz & Brewer, 1998).

In addition to general and program-specific internships, there are a variety of other widely used types of work-based, work-study, experiential learning programs which transition students from school to work or college:

* An apprenticeship is built similarly to an internship and is considered synonymous by some.

* A coop, short for cooperative education, is another type which is a paid internship taken for credit.

* A practicum (pl., practica or practicums), which involves practical experience and individual study outside the classroom that is less project-specific than an internship.

* An externship, which involves a non-resident association of an individual with an institution.

* Mentoring and job-shadowing,

* Service-learning, which is somewhat different in having a social-action component, but can be similarly considered (Cavanaugh, 2004).


The history of student internships (or cooperative education) originated in the United States in the early 1900s (Driscoll, 2006). The history of internships is intimately intertwined with that of experiential learning and experiential education, school-to-work programs and initiatives, career academies and career-exploration programs and service-learning programs (Michigan Center for Career & Technical Education, 1995).

Voluntary apprenticeships for youth originated in Europe in the early nineteenth century and remain a central component of many European training systems (Olson, 1993; Snell, 1996). In the United States, apprenticeships have declined over the past 30 years and few high school students are involved in apprenticeship programs. There are questions whether the apprenticeship model can be reinvented to meet the needs of the contemporary workplace (Unwin, 1996).

Some high schools are combining internships with career-themed academies. Marczely (1982) described an internship program in a Connecticut high school in which students selected four different career interest areas and spent four weeks at each job site working under the supervision of a resource person. Seven high schools in Minneapolis, Minnesota, have work-site curricular components that include internships and job shadowing (Minneapolis 8th graders, 2002). These latter high schools set up more personal learning environments that include small learning communities oriented around career themes. Internships have also been key elements of the educational programs set up in the small public high schools pioneered by the "Big Picture" founders Dennis Littky and Elliott Washor (Hendrie, 2004). The growth of internship programs in US high schools can best be explained by the positive effects they have on the quality of instruction and education in general.


Curriculum: Design, Planning & Development

Internships are the training and experience component of a curriculum. They are career-oriented endeavors of practical application. High schools focus the curriculum around internships so as to make learning real (Littke, 2004). Student internships have a sound educational foundation and philosophical basis which are further outlined in Table 1. Internships in different disciplinary areas involve projects and activities that are meaningful to students and that advance their academic programs.

Students, in concert with their advisors, faculty sponsors or counselors locate internships of interest and complete an internship application. Occasionally students find internships on their own, but these typically involve fewer and lower-quality learning opportunities (Haimson & Bellotti, 2001). Students normally conduct research on the industry in which they are interested and generate an internship proposal. The proposal should be structured with careful thought, be well planned and well organized. It should include an essay describing the intended internship program and individualized learning plan. It should identify the essential question and the clearly defined learning goals and objectives of the student.

Internships demand a strong commitment from students and require a significant amount of student participation in planning their own education. They also demand that the sponsoring organization determine the internship curriculum to be followed as well as the related activities. For these reasons, learning agreements or learning contracts for interns are often developed prior to students taking on the internships. The agreements (or contracts) establish the guidelines, outline the requirements and define students' duties and responsibilities.

Table 1. The Educational Foundation

Pedagogical Domain Description

Curriculum Activity-oriented, career-oriented, direct experiences, innovative, integrated, practical-application, project-based, work-based, youth-developmental, service/social action Placement Appropriate, assigned, fields of interest, personalized, realistic Environments Community, non-classroom, nontraditional, off-campus, out-of-school, professional, structured Instruction Advising, coaching, counseling, expertise-oriented, guidance, mentoring, on-the-job training, professional, supervision Learning Active, applied, community-based, cooperative, engaging, experiential, hands-on, independent, individualized, interdisciplinary, real-world, service Evaluation & Assessment Authentic, competency-based, exhibitions, performance-based, portfolios Outcomes Experience--applied, hands-on, in-depth, practical, work-based Skills--basic, communications, computer-literacy, interpersonal-relations, job-readiness, leadership, organizational, problem-solving, professional, researching, report-writing, teamworking, technology, workplace; Attitudes and behaviors--autonomy, collegiality, cooperation, dependability, independence, initiative, positive, professional, self-confidence, self-motivation, work ethic, work values

Students make use of their prior classroom learning to build a bridge to the world outside the classroom. They relate their skills and knowledge to the practice of applied experiences in actual work situations, and then integrate their internship field experiences back into academic school programs, curriculum and classroom learning. Work-based internship programs that are able to establish connections between work and school and that are closely tied with the school curriculum are preferable. Internships can connect students' after-school, post-school, and adult lives (Haimson & Bellotti, 2001; Stasz & Brewer, 1998).

A student must typically be enrolled in high school on at least a half-time basis to take an internship, as student internships are usually part-time experiences. Students may be released from school for part of the school day or part of the school year. Depending on the internship, students may work a variable number of hours within a range. The time spent interning is minimally weeks or months in length. Internships of a short-term basis can be one month, six weeks, a quarter or a semester in duration. For longer-term projects, students may receive full-time "sabbaticals" from all their regular high-school studies (Hirsch, 1974). Some schools extend the school year and require students to participate in an internship. Some internships are taken over a summer, while others are set up to provide culminating or capstone experiences for students and are taken during the final academic quarter, semester, or year. Some high schools require internships each year (Stasz & Brewer, 1998). Regardless of the length of the internship(s), students explore their potential career choices to the...

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