One of the most valuable elements of both the programs that I am working with, Campus Archaeology and the SARVP Program, is the internship. I have started internships for both of these programs, and I am starting to figure out what it is that really makes them valuable, and what makes them successful. I thought I would discuss some of those things here.
The internship is mutually beneficial, and should always be viewed that way. For the employer, they are getting free or inexpensive labor. For the Intern, a unique experience is being gained, one that gives them “real world” work experience, and something for the resume. In order for your internship to be good, however, you must provide the student with a unique experience that is not only “real world” work, but is also educational. They are students, after all, and they are there to learn, not to work.
As an employer of an intern, you must keep in mind two things: what you need done, and how you can make getting that work done educational and fun for the Intern. For example, at the Campus Archaeology Program, we realized that we did not have enough hands to keep up with the backlog of artifacts that needed to be cleaned and catalogued, and we also didn’t have the funds to hire an extra person. The internship became the next logical solution: we could get an undergraduate who could do this work for us. However, we also realized that putting an intern in the basement with a bucket of water for 16 weeks wasn’t exactly an educational experience. So, we have gradually added new elements to the internship. Now, the intern must put a presentation together analyzing the artifacts, and telling us something about the Campus. They also must maintain a blog, interacting with the public about their work and project. This makes the internship more than busy work, it makes it educational.
Internships, therefore, provide the employer to try something new. The Intern is not someone to run off photocopies and pick up your dry cleaning; they are bright young minds who you may use to try something new. Maybe there is a project that you’ve wanted to start up but haven’t had the resources or time to put it into play. An intern might be the perfect person to work on that project, or find out if it is viable. Such a responsibility would be rewarding for the intern (they’d feel special being entrusted with such a project) and you’d be able to find out if the project would work. You see this a lot with the emergence of social media: companies realize that it’s important, but don’t know how it works. Enter the Intern (MSUFCU has been advertising for an internship that looks wonderful).
Making this educational has another added bonus for the employer: it provides an opportunity for mentorship. This is a chance for people outside of academia to have an impact on the professional development of future professionals…this is a burden that should not be taken lightly. It is in fact a huge opportunity to help shape the kind of co-worker you yourself would like to work alongside. Introduce your interns to people you work with, take them to business lunches, let them sit in an important meeting. The whole point is for the intern to see how your profession works, and keeping them locked up in a cubicle all summer isn’t an experience, it’s a job (and a bad one, at that). Put your best face forward, and woo the Intern. If they’re worth it, you may be able to hire them after they graduate.
So, please consider the benefits of the internship; not only for yourself, but for the student you will be mentoring. Make it a unique position that is unlike any other in your office. Interns aren’t there to work the copy machine, they are there to do something meaningful, educational, and unique. Embrace your role as an educator and mentor. Take advantage of the opportunity to do something creative, or take a chance on a project you’ve wanted to do but not had the resources. The more energy you put into the internship, the better the dividends for your company, and the better the educational experience for the student.