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Internships With Community-Based Organizations

An internship with a nonprofit organization has the potential to amplify student learning by combining the high-impact practices of community-based learning and internship.

Community-engaged internships have the potential to help students hone skills needed for future careers and enhance their civic-mindedness, while positively contributing to non-profit organizations within their community. It is helpful to think of the intended beneficiary (community organization and/or university/student) and intended focus (service and/or learning) of an internship on a continuum. Ideally, a community-engaged internship would fall somewhere in the middle of the continuum.

Staff from area community organizations have provided feedback for department internship coordinators to create a mutually beneficial experience. The less structure provided by the department, the more challenging it can be for the site supervisor. Staff have little capacity to supervise unstructured interns. It is very difficult for any site supervisor to support an intern if little structure is provided by the academic program for the student going into an internship. Since on-site supervisors are also serving as co-educators in the student learning experience, it is important to also support them in their supervision of students from your program. Consider providing:

  • department level learning outcomes and/or internship goals to the intern site supervisor. These help the supervisor to structure an intentional experience.
  • mid-term and final evaluation documents. See these examples from IDS398, the Civic Engagement & Responsibility Minor internship: mid-term evaluation,final evaluation.
  • a main point of contact in the department in case there are questions or concerns about the interns performance.

In addition, staff prefer to be contacted by university faculty/staff about potential interns as opposed to being approached by individual students. This helps to provide initial information about departmental expectations of the site and students.

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) documents are a tool and common practice for departments to communicate expectations with internship sites. Community-based organizations often site the School of Social Work as the “gold standard” of internship supervision. See this MOU example as a reference. Departments can use them to draft their own materials, but all MOUs must be reviewed by Office of General Counsel.