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  • Starting and Maintaining a Successful Internship Office

    November 10, 2017 | By Janice Kenyatta

    Starting and Maintaining - Feature

    TAGS: internships, journal

    NACE Journal, November 2017

    Success hinges on building effective relationships with students and employers, and providing structure for both groups.

    Starting and maintaining a successful internship office within the boundaries of an educational institution can be a daunting—yet challenging, exciting, and rewarding—experience. Four years ago, I began the arduous task of starting an internship office as the experiential learning/internship manager for a large community college. As overwhelming as that challenge appeared, I was delighted to be in a position where there was no protocol in place and where I was not privy to hearing my new colleagues utter those unseemly and dreaded words, “You have big shoes to fill!”

    Sample Materials
    Members can access a variety of Kenyatta’s internship office materials through the NACE Community. See NACE Community > Library > Internship folder, and the packet titled “NCC Internship Materials.” These include:

    • Internship Agreement
    • Job Shadow Agreement Form
    • Student Intern Code of Conduct
    • Student Intern Evaluation Form
    • Employer Evaluation Form
    • Developing and Maintaining a Successful Internship Program: The Basics (employer manual)

    Four years later, after building an employer database of 100+ local employers and placing more than 125 students in internship positions, I have gained a plethora of knowledge and experience on what it takes to start, manage, and maintain a busy and successful experiential learning/internship office. It did not take long to realize that serving the role of internship manager entails wearing dual hats while engaging with two distinctive cohorts—students and employers. Through my work, I discovered two essential facts: 1) Both cohorts necessitated structure and relationship building in order to be successful, and 2) structure proved to be more beneficial to students, while consistent and solid relationship building played a significant role in my success with employers and maintaining them as internship partners.

    This article offers a few techniques that I have employed throughout the “formative” years that may benefit others who have been charged with getting a new internship office off the ground. (Please note: For details about the “how-to” of launching a new office, see the companion piece “Setting Up a New Office: The Mechanics.”)

    It is important to note up front that students do not receive academic credit for the internships they gain through my office; the focus for my office is to provide students with relevant work experience that can help them confirm their career direction, build their expertise, and connect with potential employers; approximately 45 percent of our internships are paid.

    The Student: Structure/Relationship Building

    1. Arrange a face-to-face meeting with a student who wants to intern. This affords you the opportunity to ask questions to learn as much as possible about the student, and it will help you determine if the student is a suitable candidate for the position in which he or she is interested. Ask questions such as, “Why did you choose your major?,” “What are your plans after graduation?”, “Where do you see yourself in three to five years?,” and “Why do you want to do an internship?” The answers to these questions may reveal a good deal about a student and will give students the sense that you care about them and the trajectory of their career.

    2. Discuss the overall internship process with each potential intern. Briefly explaining the process will let your students know what to expect. Try not to overcomplicate the process, and allow the student time to ask questions.

    3. Remain flexible enough to coach students on preparing effective resumes and cover letters for their internship applications. Schedule an appointment with prospective interns to conduct an interview prep before the employer interview. Do not assume that all students know these things.

    4. Maintain a file for each student who secures an internship. In my office, this includes copies of foundational documents--a signed internship agreement and a signed copy of the code of professional and ethical conduct form—plus learning objectives/outcomes developed by the student, completed time sheets, evaluation forms, and so forth.

    5. Conduct a site visit if possible, and/or communicate via e-mail or phone with students frequently to check on their progress during the internship experience. Make it clear to all student interns that you are their main point of contact as well as their advocate throughout the internship and that you are available to help with unresolved conflicts should they arise during the internship.

    6. Highlight an “Intern of the Month” on your college website. Based on my experience, students and employers really appreciate this! It is also good publicity for your program.

    7. Assign students a “culminating assignment” such as a reflective paper or a portfolio that is due to your office at the end of the internship. This will give them an opportunity to pull everything together and discuss what did or did not work during the internship.

    8. Prepare a certificate of completion to award to the student at the end of the internship. As my students do not receive academic credit, the certificate gives them something tangible that represents the successful completion of a major event in their academic career; however, such a certificate can also be valuable to students who do receive academic credit. I award a certificate of completion only to students who complete all requirements for the internship.

    9. Encourage students to stay in touch with you as they move on to pursue other educational goals. As small as it may seem, following up with former student interns shows that you care!

    The Employer: Relationship Building/Structure

    1. Remain professional, friendly, and flexible with new and potential employers. If given the opportunity, briefly describe your internship process. Be careful not to bore employers with every detail. Employers appreciate and welcome structure and organization. They have affirmed this to me on multiple occasions.

    2. Educate new employers, if necessary, on the major differences between hiring a student intern and a part-time or full-time employee. Recognize that this may be a grey area for employers that are new to the internship world. Prepare and provide them with an internship manual outlining the basics, including relevant information about managing interns, intern expectations and concerns, legal issues, and so forth. I offer our manual to employers that are hiring interns for the first time, but will give one to any employer that asks.

    3. Request a tour of the employer’s business early in the relationship building stage to demonstrate your interest and to view the facilities where your students may be placed. Typically, employers love to show off their operational facilities. Be sure to send the contact person a thank you e-mail when you get back to your office. This makes for great “relationship building.”

    4. Conduct a site visit after the student is hired. Doing so conveys interest, gratitude, and caring about where your interns are placed.

    5. Extend an invitation to employers to sit on related advisory boards, to participate in career fairs, to conduct on-site interviews at the college, and to conduct and/or participate in career readiness workshops and seminars. Most employers enjoy the “spotlight” and like making a positive impact on the lives of future employees. Employers have often asked me how they can participate in career-related campus events.

    6. Call or e-mail employers occasionally to say hello and/or to check on the progress of your student interns.

    7. Highlight a few important facts about the employer or supervisor in your “Intern of the Month” feature, and send a copy or link to the employer. I will occasionally forward a copy of the feature to relevant vice presidents, deans, and faculty members within the college. This is good public relations for the internship office.

    8. Show appreciation for providing your students with an opportunity to work, learn, grow, and—in some cases—get paid while interning at the employer’s business. Invite employers to an appreciation breakfast or luncheon event at your college, invite an employer representative out to breakfast or lunch, or present employer partners with a souvenir or certificate of appreciation. Everyone likes to feel appreciated. Consider this insightful quote: “A person who is appreciated will always do more than is expected” (author unknown). Showing appreciation is paramount to growing and maintaining your employer database.

    Remember: Relationships Are the Key

    It is no secret to career services personnel that the 21st century workplace has experienced major technological advances that have radically altered ways in which individuals engage with one another. During my work, I realized that the seemingly old-fashioned practice of systematically developing and sustaining meaningful relationships will continue to stand the test of time. To that end, I encourage career services professionals to employ some or all of these techniques to build and sustain relationships with both students and employers. In time, you will cultivate a set of methods and procedures that will propel you on the path to successfully developing and maintaining an internship office that is treasured by students, employers, faculty, and, ultimately, the entire college community.

    Janice Kenyatta

    Janice Kenyatta has served as the experiential learning/internship manager at Northampton Community College (NCC) in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, since 2013. Prior to her current position, Kenyatta held the positions of director of tech prep, career coach, adjunct professor, and career placement specialist at NCC. An experienced educator and administrator with more than 40 years’ experience in career and technical education, she taught high school business education and adjunct business courses at several community colleges, and, for six years, served as supervisor of career and technical education at Essex County Vocational & Technical Schools in northern New Jersey. Kenyatta has a master’s degree in business education and holds post-graduate supervisory certifications in career and technical education in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She can be reached at

    Kenyatta is presenting on this topic at the NACE 2018 Conference & Expo in New Orleans.

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