Internships became a staple of a student’s learning experience at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology more than 20 years ago.
This followed a trend started long ago by medical professionals, which have used internships to polish the skills of professionals entering the field, giving them hands-on experience allowing the combination of theory and practice in a real-world setting.
OSUIT internships are work experiences for students enrolled in a technical discipline. Students receive class credit and the internships typically last a full semester. Students become employees of the company offering the internship, and interns are expected to complete weekly assignments such as reports or reflective journal entries. Also, at the conclusion of the internship, the students must produce a comprehensive written and oral report chronicling the highlights of their experience. Also included in this process are employer evaluations of the intern’s skills, knowledge and attitude.
Internships provide direct benefits to all parties: students, business partners and the university.
Internships provide students with opportunities for experiential learning. Students’ educations are enhanced tremendously by the real-world experiences they gain on their internships. During the internships, students experience working in a real business environment which includes the human interaction component, which they can’t experience fully in a classroom laboratory.
Internships provide students with insights into the work-world of their chosen career fields. Many students enter programs of study with little understanding of the career that awaits them at graduation. While the classroom component of their education is directly related to job expectations, it is the actual work experience in the field that allows students a better understanding of the career they have chosen and the expectations of the industry.
Internships validate what students have learned in the classroom and laboratory. After students spend several semesters in classroom/lab learning environments, the internships allow them to see that the equipment they have used in the classrooms and the processes they’ve studied are what they see in the workplace. Students realize their academic learning matches their experiential learning during their internship.
Internships also provide students with help financing their education. In many instances, the earnings from an internship provide a student the money needed to complete a degree at OSUIT.
Students returning from a positive internship experience are inspired, invigorated, and motivated learners who are eager to share their experience with classmates. These students are walking advertisements for their careers and schools.
For industry partners, internships provide a steady stream of eager, educated, and motivated prospective employees with skills in current technologies. Companies hiring recent college graduates have no input into that student’s education. By providing internships and partnering with the learning institution providing the interns, business partners get a chance to “polish” the intern and have significant input into the intern’s education. Since most internships last a full semester, the company and intern have a fifteen-week period of mutual exposure. The business partner gets to sample the skills of the intern and observe their work habits, attitude and skills. At the same time, the intern gets to sample the work environment of the business, and determine whether it is a good fit for their skills and knowledge.
The university benefits from internships in several significant ways. The internship process provides a vital connection between education and industry, allowing OSUIT’s technical programs to stay technically current. By being exposed to current technology, OSUIT’s interns and graduates bring skills and education that are of immediate value to employers.
During a student’s internship, OSUIT technical instructors visit them at their employment sites and interact with the technicians who are supervising the student, and see the technology being used at that company. When the instructors develop relationships with the employees of industry partners, it creates a mutually beneficial opportunity to align the technical programs at OSUIT with industry. This assures students that their education is based on current and emerging technologies used by businesses.
As reported in an INSIGHT Into Diversity article entitled The Importance of Internships in a Declining Economy (April 16, 2009) a 2008 survey of employers conducted by Michigan State University found that 50% of respondents’ new hires had completed an internship with the company. In March, 2008, NACE (National Association of College and Employers) reported similar findings in their Experiential Education Survey with 35.9% of employers reporting hiring students from their internship program. In the same study, NACE found the percent of interns converted to full-time employees increased from 35.6% in 2001 to 50.5% in 2008.
In the same study, NACE stated, “Nearly 80% reported that the return on investment for internships and co-ops was good to excellent.” NACE also reported that students who have not interned will be at a disadvantage when it comes to securing a full-time position.
Internships are a win for all involved. Students win experientially and financially. Employers win by creating a pathway to new, educated employees who have the necessary skills. Universities win by the feedback they receive from the student interns and from the employers, to be able to develop their curriculum to meet industry’s needs.