Peer Review

From the Editor

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”—Chinese proverb

Internships and other experiential learning opportunities allow college students to apply and connect, in real-world situations, knowledge learned and skills and ethics developed—their essential learning outcomes. As Janet Eyler explains in her Fall 2009 Liberal Education article, “Experiential learning…helps students both to bridge classroom study and life in the world and to transform inert knowledge into knowledge-in-use. [It provides] a process whereby the learner interacts with the world and integrates new learning into old constructs.”

This year, college internships have been a media hot topic, mostly through news stories covering the Department of Labor’s efforts to regulate unpaid internships. While those issues are worth discussion, in these pages we will explore a different aspect of this high-impact practice: how internships and other experiential learning opportunities can allow students both to extend classroom learning and also explore their career paths.

According to the 2009 Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) membership survey, 62 percent of AAC&U member institutions report placing an increased emphasis on internships during the past five years. We know from other research that these real-world experiences are critical once students graduate and head into the workforce. In a 2007 business leaders survey AAC&U commissioned, 69 percent of employers said that they think that “completion of a supervised and evaluated internship or community-based project” would be very effective in ensuring that recent college graduates possess the skills and knowledge needed for success. Furthermore, faculty-evaluated internships ranked highest among a list of assessment practices in which business leaders recommend that colleges and universities invest scarce resources.

InternGuru blogger Matthew Zinman, founder of the nonprofit Internship Institute, recently addressed this topic on his site, stating: “Internships represent an unprecedented opportunity to infuse the economy with an untapped pipeline of student talent. They also ready an emerging workforce to succeed, reducing the widening gap between labor and business competency.”

But as Nancy O’Neill, an AAC&U staff member who once worked as a college career counselor, points out in the article that opens this issue, not all internships are equally valuable for students. “Many students landed in my office precisely because their internships lacked direction and meaningful work. These students, frustrated and disappointed, began to view internships quite cynically as ‘resume fillers’ and ‘door openers’ that needed to be completed in order to land a job after graduation.” Whether students’ internships have a lasting impact greatly depends on the planning and execution of the experience.

Internships at their best are a partnership among students, campus professionals, faculty, and employers. Getting it right on the employer’s end certainly isn’t easy. I speak from experience, based on the summer that our editorial offices hosted a bright young woman as an intern. Since I had benefitted from a wonderful internship working in the public information office of the mayor of the District of Columbia many years ago, I was interested in providing an engaging internship for a college student to learn more about, and have hands-on experience working on, publications in our office. I crafted a work plan for her, and through editing, proofreading, and writing assignments, I did my best to give her a sense of what working on a professional publication was like. Every day she came to work on time and seemed, for the most part, enthusiastic about working with us. Imagine my surprise when, after the internship was over and we were clearing her computer, I found that she’d spent much of her time with us working on a novel.

In this issue of Peer Review, AAC&U National Leadership Council member and Siemens executive Christi Pedra provides cogent advice to employers who, like me, find themselves wanting to craft more engaging internships. Also included in this journal’s articles are best practices from campuses addressing the need to provide strong hands-on experiences for college students as they explore the world in preparation for their lives as productive and educated citizens. In connecting goals and practices, we construct more ‘purposeful pathways’ for students and more intentional institutions in which all units work together to ensure that all students achieve the outcomes they need and deserve.

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