Benefits of an Internal College Internship
Running head: Benefits of an Internal College Internship
Benefits of an Internal College Internship with
Professor as Practitioner Supervisor:
A Two-Year Case Study
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
1999 Annual Convention
Internships and Careers Interest Group
Dr. John E. Forde, APR
Department of Communication
P.O. Box PF
Mississippi State, MS 39762
(601) 325-3210 (fax)
[log in to unmask]
April 1, 1999
One method to help communication professors stay current is for them to directly
supervise students who are completing internships within their own college.
When students receive credit for the work, the professor may serve as the
faculty supervisor/coordinator and the professional/practitioner supervisor.
This case study outlines one successful program being implemented by a
university and the ensuing benefits for the students, professor, dean, and other
Benefits of an Internal College Internship with Professor as Practitioner
A Two-Year Case Study
Introduction - Importance of Internships
"Internships are a vital link between college majors and courses and the
professional opportunities of the work world" (Alexander, 1995, p. 3).
Internships often provide the first opportunity for students to apply classroom
work to the real world. In addition, many students find new information that
indicates they need more classes in certain specific areas or that they need to
gain additional knowledge or skills from other sources. Students also often
find they discover new career opportunities they did not know existed.
Internships can often make the difference in whether a graduate receives a job
or not, or whether the graduate receives a menial position or a position of
choice. Quality interns are often hired by their internship supervisors, with
some students even being offered future positions before they graduate.
Internship Roles of Students, Faculty and Practitioners
Internship programs usually consist of a three-person or three-role
relationship: the student/intern, the faculty supervisor/coordinator, and the
professional/practitioner supervisor. Quality of the internship program can be
enhanced when the professor has fulfilled all of the roles at various times.
Therefore, the professor can identify with all three responsibility areas and
provide appropriate advice.
When professors have had professional practitioner experience, this knowledge
can be shared with current and future students. Many times professors can link
theoretical or historical instances with their own professional backgrounds.
However, when professors continue teaching after having been practitioners and
do not continue in any practitioner roles, these "war stories" can become dated
Even in the past 12-15 years, the sheer increase in the use of technology has
made former methods of practice obsolete. The basic necessary skills of
writing, speaking, problem solving, interpersonal relations, layout and design,
etc., are still mandatory, but the advent of new distribution methods or
channels creates a challenge for professors who are not willing to stay current.
Many of the technological advances that were nonexistent or prohibitively
expensive in the past would now be on most professors' demand lists if they were
to return to full-time non-teaching careers: cellular telephones or related
personal communication systems; laptop computers; advanced software programs in
desktop publishing, spreadsheets, data bases, presentations; up-to-date e-mail
systems; digital cameras, etc.
Professors can also share their experiences while working as interns, either in
the past while they were students or in many of the increasing number of faculty
internship programs. Faculty can enhance their understanding of changing
communication fields and thereby better prepare their students by engaging in
this "continuing education" as often as possible.
Faculty members can also stay somewhat up-to-date by serving as the academic
supervisor or teacher for interns and learning through students' experiences.
By requiring students to write reports and make presentations concerning
internship experiences, the internship teacher and other participating students
learn vicariously about many other areas.
An additional method to help professors stay current is to directly supervise
students who are completing internships within their own college. When students
are receiving credit for the work, this means the professor may serve as the
faculty supervisor/coordinator and the professional/practitioner supervisor.
The following case study outlines one currently successful method to implement
such a program.
Professor's Prior Internship and Practitioner Experience
For the past 12 years as an instructor/professor, the communication professor
in this case has led the public relations emphasis in a Communication
Department. In addition, he has coordinated the internship program for public
relations and the four other emphasis areas in the department (broadcasting,
journalism, theatre, and communication studies). The vast majority of the
interns have been students in public relations, broadcasting and journalism.
When he began supervising the program there was no list of locations available,
but the list has now grown to well over 500. This includes sites where students
have worked, contacts made through professional association service, and
information from mailings received. Typically 15-25 students take the
internship class for credit every fall and spring. The supervising professor
and other faculty also assist the increasing number who now also complete
second, third, or even fourth internships not for credit. There are also
students who are advised concerning internships who are not eligible for the
course because of grade point average, classification, or courses completed.
Still other students opt not to take the course for credit because of time
limitations available to devote to the class or the work. Some of these will
complete "just the work part" that can still be included in resumes as
experience or internships.
In addition to working in a location at least 120 hours, the internship course
currently also includes academic elements that account for 30% of the students'
grades. Internship students complete a resume, a mock interview with the
professor, a summary paper, a summary presentation, a mid-term mini report, and
a networking list.
Prior to full-time teaching, the internship professor had been a public
relations director for a small college, serving in a generalist role in
supervising or assisting with many functions. These broad areas included
publicity, advertising, recruiting, direct mail, publications, photography,
surveys and other research, printing, sports information, training, budgeting,
and counseling. He also supervised numerous interns over the two-year period.
As a student, the professor completed internships on campuses as both an
undergraduate and graduate student. He worked with recruiting specialists as an
undergraduate and with continuing education while a graduate student. These
experiences led to job opportunities, shaped him very positively in other ways,
and determined many of his future plans.
During the 1994-1995 and 1995-1996 school years, a team of professors and
public school administrators submitted grants through a university program to
implement public relations activities within local public schools. The
internship professor served as a principal investigator for both grants. As one
element of the grant, interns worked with schools in producing newsletters,
writing news articles, designing and analyzing surveys, assisting with special
events, and educating the public about a bond issue. This experience proved
very beneficial for all involved, leading eventually to the school district
advertising for a part-time public relations professional. Some of the projects
funded by the grants are still being implemented, such as a call-in telephone
line for the schools. Student interns gained valuable hands-on experiences,
accumulated portfolio materials, and made valuable contacts for future
endeavors. Professors involved in the project have made numerous presentations,
written articles, and been consulted in other related school public relations
matters after completing these programs. These experiences proved to be
valuable training for similar future programs.
Initiation of the College of Arts & Sciences Public Relations Internship
In May 1997, the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences approached the
communication internship professor about supervising an internship program with
the college office. The internship would consist of several
communication/public relations students being paid to complete the external
newsletter, "Renaissance," geared toward alumni and friends of the college. The
professor developed an initial budget within the dean's recommendations and
presented the proposal to the dean. The proposal was accepted and the
internship program was officially begun.
The major purpose of the newsletter is to provide information that will lead to
enhanced relationships between various publics (especially graduates) and the
dean's office, further leading to increased donations and other support. The
College of Arts & Sciences typically does not enjoy the same identification from
graduates as other colleges often do. Alumni tend to see themselves as
graduates of departments only, and many have few ties to the college. Elements
of the entire internship program, and especially the external newsletter, are
designed to develop more networks between graduates and the college. Another
goal for the newsletter is for readers to receive the newsletter prior to two
major university events, further encouraging them to attend: homecoming in the
fall (normally in October) and Super Bulldog Weekend in the spring (normally in
April). The latter event is a highly attended weekend full of activities
centered around baseball, the spring football intraquad game, and social
Up to four students are paid for up to 10 hours of work per week at minimum
wage. If students want to work more than one semester and supervisors determine
they have done quality work, there is the option for students to continue
holding one of the internship positions.
From the beginning of the internship program the supervising professor and the
dean agreed that the interns and other professionals involved would work with
University Relations and not branch out on any activities that would be
counterproductive to the university as a whole. Therefore, meetings are held
with the institutional advancement editor several times during each semester to
determine deadlines and discuss story ideas. Students then work independently
with their departments to write news stories or edit ones already produced by
University Relations. All four interns read the others' work and provide
suggestions. Further editing is completed by the supervising professor, the
dean, and the institutional advancement editor. The publications manager or an
associate completes the layout. The editor, the publications manager, the dean,
and the supervising professor normally then proofread before the final copy goes
to press. If time allows, each intern also reads the final proof.
Generally students work with four different departments each in the college (a
total of 16), "adopting" these departments as they begin their work. Students
go to the department heads early in the semester to introduce themselves, then
visit, call and/or e-mail either the department head or a designated
representative to gather necessary information for stories.
From the beginning of the program there has also been a long-term goal to have
the internship evolve into a broad public relations focus and not simply a
"newsletter writing" internship. With much cooperation from all involved, this
expansion is taking place.
Although an initial goal was to increase the publicity for the college and have
students write news releases for media distribution, this role has been limited.
Students have often checked with news bureau staff in University Relations and
found that most story ideas proposed by departmental officials had already been
written, or in some cases the stories may not have been newsworthy.
During the first meeting the first group of new interns and the supervising
professor had with the dean their roles began to broaden. The dean suggested
that interns complete an internal newsletter in addition to the external
version. This had been successful in another institution where he served as a
faculty member. The internal publication would serve to further inform those on
campus, especially those within the college, about activities of all the diverse
departments in the college. Students agreed to the idea and plans began for the
Prior to initiation of this internship program a new public relations position
for the dean's office had been proposed to higher administration. A graduate
from the Communication Department had published a newsletter and completed a
mini-internship. However, the dean approached the internship professor about
developing the internship program after funding was not available to hire a new
full-time staff member in the dean's office. His proposal would complete many
of the same objectives, only there would not be one consist coordinator, but
rather the professor as supervisor and rotating interns.
The program was initiated with the same student requirements as any student
receiving credit for their internship experiences:
y at least junior status;
y at least a 2.8 grade point average, either overall or in the major; and
y completion of the introductory course in their emphasis (typically
Introduction to Public Relations).
The professor's major role in the Arts & Sciences Internship program is to be
the liaison between interns, the dean and dean's office staff, University
Relations practitioners, Development/Alumni Relations staff; the mailing
service, and department heads (as needed).
Each semester he completes the following duties in the program:
y promotes the availability of the internships by producing, posting, and
distributing flyers within the department;
y collects resumes and cover letters;
y determines which candidates will be chosen;
y supervises the $27,000 budget with assistance from departmental office
y meets with dean and University Relations staff as needed for story ideas,
y edits newsletters, surveys, other written materials; and
y discusses potential new areas with dean, department heads, and other faculty.
Although the internship program started with major functions to complete an
external and internal newsletter each semester, the scope of impact has
broadened, as was originally planned. The external and internal newsletters are
now on a routine schedule, with the supervising professor, institutional
advancement editor, and dean working together to meet deadlines. Most
departments are responding much more quickly in requests for information from
students and other involved. Four issues of the external newsletter, the
Renaissance, have now been distributed, and the fourth edition of the Internal
Update is being completed for distribution.
An additional newsletter has been added to the interns' functions. The Women's
Studies Program needed writing and layout assistance with their newsletter. The
executive director had been working with others trying to complete a newsletter
every several months. The interns now do one of these publications generally
Recently the director of a government service organization on campus approached
an intern and the supervising professor concerning interns' assistance with
their newsletter. Plans are underway for interns to begin writing these
newsletters during the summer of 1999. Additional funding may be added to the
program from this source if student hours exceed the previously agreed number.
In addition to these publications, students are now routinely helping with
special events, such as recruiting activities and honor programs. Interns have
served with the Society of Scholars in the Arts & Sciences as hostesses for the
last three initiation programs, helping with registrations, name tags, surveys,
signage, and other event planning.
Interns are now also routinely assisting the dean's office and departments with
display cases in the student union and the library. Students contact department
officials and others involved and gather materials, then determine proper
methods for arranging materials, and then "break down" the display cases when
the appearance is finished. Students have worked with library and union
administrators in securing space and organizing materials.
Students have also written congratulatory cards from the dean's office when
graduates are noted for awards or other distinctions in media sources. Interns
received copies of clippings from the Office of Development and then wrote the
cards, passing them along to the dean's assistant who processed them for
For some departments students have designed or updated recruiting materials,
such as brochures or curriculum lists. This area is one where increased
activity is very likely.
This semester a survey has been distributed for the dean's office through
academic advisors directed toward students in the college. Questions address
the following student topics: knowledge that their major is under the College
of Arts & Sciences, understanding what person(s) to contact with problems,
understanding that students can change advisors, knowledge that they are
required to sign a 90-hour checklist prior to graduation, interest in a student
advisory board (and serving on it), and an open-ended question asking for any
general comments. Students have the option of including their address and other
directory-type information. An intern wrote the survey and will collect the
responses from each department. A group of interns will then tally the results
and write a report to the dean and the internship professor.
Major Positive Outcomes
Benefits of this program have been many for all concerned. Eventually there
may be funding for a full-time person to work in this capacity, but until that
occurs all feedback indicates that the internship program will continue with few
changes, other than continually adding new activities.
Students have benefited greatly from the experience. Since May 1997, 13
different students have worked in the program. Eight of the students have
worked more than one semester, thereby multiplying their rewards. Of the eight
who have already graduated, four are known to be working in public relations or
a related field, one was in graduate school when last contacted, one is
expecting a child and waiting at home for her husband to graduate, and the
remaining two have not contacted the professor recently. (One is an art
graduate with little prior contact with the professor, and the other was a
broadcasting major with a public relations minor who moved to another state when
her husband entered law school.) Each of the four internship positions has
always been filled.
A former college English teacher of one of the current interns recently wrote a
letter complimenting her on her writing ability. He stated, "I guess I did my
job at (the college) better than I thought because you certainly are a good
writer" (B. Henson, personal communication, March 23, 1999).
Overall positive outcomes for interns include the following:
y course credit (in many cases);
y practical work experience;
y portfolio materials;
y enhanced relationships with supervisor, dean, department heads, University
Relations and Alumni/Development staff; and
y increased base of references.
This internship program has been a very positive experience for the supervising
internship professor. Benefits have included the following:
y enhanced relationships with dean and dean's office staff, department heads,
intern students, University Relations practitioners, Alumni/Development staff,
mailing service owners, and alumni;
y updated practice in editing and proofreading, including staying current with
the Associated Press Stylebook;
y continued practice with budgeting and managing funds;
y updated synthesis of information concerning printing and mailing processes;
y greater exposure among alumni, both from the Communication Department and
All of these professor benefits are easily transferred to classroom lecture and
discussion, thereby keeping current students updated by sharing the knowledge.
Lectures can grow stale if professors only relate to students what they learned
in jobs from many years past. Staying current by working with this internship
program helps all other students learn through the professor's learning.
From all direct and indirect indications, the dean has been very pleased with
the program. His responses in meetings have always been affirming. Positive
outcomes for dean have seemed to be numerous:
y less worry for about day-to-day technical matters on the newsletter, allowing
him to concentrate more on writing his article and proofreading;
y implementation of additional public relations activities to further reach
toward his goals;
y enhanced relationships with all publics, but especially alumni (based on
responses from mail, e-mail, notes, letters, etc. as a direct result from the
external newsletter); and
y a greater appreciation for the potential impact of public relations
In addition to this increased external recognition from alumni and others, the
dean has been complimented by many high-level administrators. The specific
following comments have been made to the dean from others on campus, including
the president, vice presidents, and other deans:
I have just reviewed your latest issue of the Arts & Sciences newsletter and
want to congratulate you for an excellent publication. I assume you are getting
numerous favorable reactions from alumni and other friends. Congratulations on
the good work. (D. Zacharias, personal communication, October 15, 1997)
"Thanks. Nicely done" (B. Altenkirch, personal communication, March 17, 1999).
Thanks for sending me a copy of your reborn "Renaissance" and for your note
which was attached. I enjoyed both. I really liked the look of the newsletter
and the personal style of your page. This will be passed along to our public
relations person as an outstanding example for such a communications piece.
Looking forward to our next visit. (D. Moffett, personal communication, April
The dean's assistant estimates the dean receives 5-10 comments (e-mails,
letters, notes) on average per month concerning the newsletter and related
activities. This contact tends to be more intense right after one is released
(R. Christopher, personal communication, March 29, 1999).
The initial challenge in the program was recruiting enough applicants. Even
though the internship is paid, there were relatively few students remaining on
campus during the first summer session following the approval meeting. There
was also a short turnaround time to recruit and identify applicants, complete
paperwork, have students understand their roles, meet department heads, and
complete the newsletter by the necessary deadline. Four excellent candidates
were chosen for the first summer term and did set a positive path for others to
Another challenge has been continually explaining the purposes of the
newsletters and other activities to some of the department heads. The external
newsletter is designed for alumni, donors, and other "friends" of the college.
Therefore, stories that are included tend to be very newsworthy, often rewritten
and updated from news releases that have already been published in news outlets.
The internal newsletter is for information that is probably not newsworthy
enough to "make" the external newsletter. This publication is much more text
heavy and less oriented toward longer feature stories. Short paragraphs about
internal awards of faculty and students, upcoming "minor" campus events,
internal grants received, etc., are included in the internal newsletter under
each departmental name. Understanding these different news values has been a
problem in some cases, while meeting the deadlines has been a problem in many.
Since department heads have so many different obligations, interns have had to
repeatedly contact some to gather information to meet deadlines, especially for
the internal newsletter. Interns and the supervising professor continue to
increase their communication to department heads by the following methods:
y interns contacting department heads in person, by phone, and by e-mail,
repeating the same basic message;
y internship supervisor meeting with department heads periodically during
dean's meetings; and
y internship supervisor discussing various projects of internship program
during conversations with department heads and others whenever possible.
Another challenge has been receiving appropriate mailing list labels. The
mailing list is kept in another office on campus that is not directly accessible
to the department or the dean's office. Address updates and other information
have to be sent to this other office for them to update the information. This
has not been a major problem, although during the last mailing a new contact
person was initially unsure what specific characteristics were designated to run
the list because the former contact had moved to another position out of state.
Another initial challenge that has been overcome was having the mailing service
work quickly enough to process the external newsletter. Because of the
four-color process, inclusion of pictures, and multiple layers of
proofreading/editing needed, there is a long-lead deadline. In one of the
initial mailings newsletters were delayed for several days more than once
because a higher priority item arrived to the mailing service. The current
mailing service has received and processed approximately 11,000 newsletters in
two days for the past two issues.
According to the institutional advancement editor in University Relations
working with the program, some colleges at this university and other
universities have a full-time writer or a part-time staff person who is also
employed with the school's public relations office. Interns and the professor
such as those in the College of Arts & Sciences program fill a vital role when
colleges cannot afford to have a full-time person working in a public relations
capacity. The bonus for the internship program in the College of Arts &
Sciences is that these are communication students who are trained to write (B.
Wagnon, personal communication, March 29, 1999).
Implementing more internship programs with direct involvement will continue to
improve public relations education by assisting the students involved and the
professors. According to Marion K. Pinsdorf (1998), both professors and
practitioners "would do far better, individually, and advance public relations
if they would just speak the same language and get along" (p. 40).
The professor has enjoyed the experience and felt that the extra time involved
has been worth the effort. This internship program continues to grow, with more
students showing an interest in the program and more projects being added almost
Each meeting with the dean has been very positive concerning this program. All
indications imply that this program will continue, at least until a professional
is hired to work in the dean's office in the same capacity as the four interns
and the supervising professor. When and if that does occur, interns could still
be available to work with that new practitioner. Programs similar to the Arts &
Sciences Internship could be implemented at other institutions. The benefits
are evident for all involved publics.
Alexander, J. P. (1995). Internships in communications. Ames, IA: Iowa
State University Press.
Pinsdorf, M. K., and Huey, B. (1998). Lastword: Public relations education
face off. The Public Relations Strategist, 4, (4), 40.