Internship 2.0
November 23, 2012 7:42 AM   Subscribe

How do I go about creating the best internship ever?

I've recently became the internship coordinator at my job. Last year, my logistics company designed a paid internship program in hopes of recruiting students to smart cities. My community is on the verge of creating more efficient use of its resources, including a reduced carbon footprint plus real-time public transportation updates. I want to attract computer-savvy interns with programming backgrounds, but I also want to encourage creativity and spark innovation. Think of this as a design/engineering camp, like IDEO Labs, or BDW. One project that comes to mind is a multimedia video projection on the public library building. The ultimate goal is to garner more publicity for the Southeast and, possibly, attract the best and brightest entrepreneurs. Additionally, I hope to:

-foster community inclusion (i.e. public speaker series)
-transform creative ideas into workable prototypes
-emphasize each project's long-term sustainability

I'm unsure whether students will work on one, large project, or collaborate with mentors/ community members on individual projects.

I'd love suggestions on how to execute this. And, please, creative ideas are welcome! Thank you in advance and happy Black Friday!
posted by nikayla_luv to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In my internship, I wished I'd gotten the chance to just shadow my superiors for a few days. I left the company without a clear idea of just what exactly my boss DID all day.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:49 AM on November 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is maybe a bit general, but best internship I've had (which I think could also be under a design & engineering umbrella), I was given lots of initial/more general instruction and was very much encouraged to ask anyone questions at any time, no matter how dumb I thought they were, and then was treated like I had been hired because I has some semblance of knowing what I was doing/not being a total moron. I was working with a team of other students (both from my school and others) under increasingly loose guidance from a product owner. She and the rest of the staff were always willing and available to come and help us with any problems we might be facing, but over 80% of the time, my team was in our office space without full-time staff around.

Think about bringing in students outside of the programming/etc. field. What about design students, for example? Check this out.

Anyway, let interns do what they know how to do... they may be college students, or even high school students, but giving them some freedom within their projects is what I think will encourage that creativity/innovation, as well as more pride/excitement in their work. Don't be unavailable or unwilling to help them from the full-time staff side, but try and step back unless you see things start to go horribly wrong.
posted by jorlyfish at 8:47 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ensure that there aren't different tiers of internships. There should be an across the board policy that applies to all interns. To do otherwise will lead to things like the "lower" interns being left out of opportunities, and the "higher" interns will put on their resume that they mentored the "lower" interns while they are still interns.

Please, don't do this.
posted by Yowser at 9:24 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Open it to students outside of engineering and into design and technical communication. More and more students in these fields have a surprising depth in technology and bring an outside of engineering perspective. Also, reach out to the program coordinators in surrounding campuses even those without engineering programs. Many an entrepreneur did not come out of engineering and heck, some did not finish college.

As an internship supervisor, from the academic side, I want the intern and the local supervisor to know what is obligated on both sides. This means that you clearly state what the student gets out of it on both a concrete (tangible products for their portfolio) and critical thinking level. For your side it is tangibles that let you know that the intern did their job per spec and along the way learned a great deal about your firm and the industry.

What is mentioned above about setting up a structure so that questions get answered and exploration encouraged, whether by shadowing or having the subject matter experts on hand to guide, if needed is crucial.
posted by jadepearl at 9:25 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Actually give your interns some kind of real, useful project to work on that they can realistically complete during their internship and put on their resumes and point to it and say, " I DID THIS. " The worst internship is one where you get there and everybody ignores you and you sit around staring at a screen attempting to look busy and then you sit around waiting for everybody to leave because you don't want to appear lazy but you have nothing to do and you don't know enough or have access to the tools needed to come up with something useful on your own. That was what my internship was like a few years ago and to this day I don't understand why they brought me on board. They didn't even ask me to get food or anything.
posted by pravit at 9:25 AM on November 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

Okay, this turned into a bit of a book, but I started an internship program two years ago (with the full support of my boss), and while we're still learning and tweaking, the program bones have emerged, and for us it is working really well. My job is in a completely different field than yours, though, so take it for what it is worth.

Both my boss and I think internships are incredibly important (this helps), and we treat them and our interns as such. Our division is quite small, so some of what we do may not scale up well -- the program takes a *lot* of time from everyone involved, but the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

We do not require that interns are getting a degree in our field, but they need to have a strong interest and a willingness to work on our primary internship project (data collection). We've had anthropology students (awesome at creating and completing interview/internal-external surveys), communications students, design students, and others…each have brought a worthwhile viewpoint and skill set. We’ll tailor internships for undergraduate or masters students, if we think they’re a good fit.

During our initial interview, we ask generally what the intern hopes to get from the position -- the intern's goals are the primary driver behind how I set up their schedule, who they spend time with, and what they spend their time doing.

Once they've been selected but before they show up for their first day, I ask them to roughly sketch out a personal project they'd like to work on while they're interning. This part of their internship functions a bit like an independent study and gives the intern a concrete take-away for their portfolio - the intern needs to bring (on paper) an outline of the project they have in mind, and together we decide on the steps that would be required to complete the project. I have fairly flexible boundaries on personal projects – the product has to benefit our division in some way, but should be a subject the intern is either passionate about or has a genuine desire to learn about. Very often my job at that point is to help the intern narrow the subject enough to complete the project within the time they have with us.

Interns are required to produce a written report and to present a summary of their personal project to whichever powers that be I can rope into sitting still for a half an hour or so at the end of the internship period – members of the Board, supervisors, co-workers and/or random visiting VIPs. For some interns, picking a subject is the hardest part; I have a list of suggestions handy, but I will not choose for them. I specifically carve out personal project time on their schedules, and to ensure accountability, I require meetings on a regular basis to discuss progress. I go out of my way to get interns face time with the people, within our division or not, who can help with the personal project or who are working in the intern’s primary field of interest.

Interns shadow everyone in a supervisory capacity in our division, at least once, for at least a half a day. They participate in whatever it is our supervisors/employees are doing that day, although most of our people make an effort to make that time interesting/rewarding for the intern.

If I have more than one intern in a semester, they work together at least once a week.

Interns are invited to and involved in regular division activities - e.g., interns attend and participate in all regular staff meetings, as well as special occasions such as holiday parties. I also deliberately schedule in one or two fun/informative field trips.

Overall, the breakdown of how their time is spent looks something like this: roughly 70% of the time on the project we need interns for; 25% of their time on their personal project; 4% of their time on shadowing internally or externally, and about 1% of their time on whatever pops up that would benefit the intern. Once their overall goals are mapped, I let them go do what they need to do – we meet regularly to be sure everything is working for everyone involved, but I do not micromanage their time.

LOTS of communication, flexibility, the willingness to let people stretch, and the expectation of actual work product is working for us with this program. Please feel free to me-mail me if you want more info.
posted by faineant at 11:24 AM on November 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks everyone for your help!
posted by nikayla_luv at 3:08 PM on November 25, 2012

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