Students Share What Makes a Good Internship Program


Students want to know how well they are doing through agency evaluations conversations. This Feedback is valuable to the professional growth of the student.

It's time to hear from the students—the young professionals in the field of parks and recreation—who will be searching for internships with agencies in the state of Illinois. This article shares what students expect of an Internship program and their concerns about such programs.

Agencies that offer internships and those considering starting an internship program might be concerned with the quality of the individual they are hiring. When looking at the issue from the student's perspective, quality is also an issue. Students have concerns about the quality of the program in which they will be engaging.

During the summer of 1999, informal surveys were collected from more than 20 students who were currently completing their internships for park and recreation agencies in the state of Illinois. The survey asked students to list the qualities a good internship program, describe some expectations or concerns they had previous to me program, and opinions regarding why an intern would benefit an agency.

Qualities of a Successful Program

According to interns who worked in agencies during the summer of 1999, these are the five key elements of a successful internship program:

• Cooperation

• Inclusion

• Education

• A sense of openness

• Proper guidance from a mentor

Prior to the internship, the agency will want to cooperate with the student in designing the goals and schedule that will be effective for both the agency and the intern. The agency will want to consider the experiences that most closely relate to the student's area of interest and any extra "bonus" experiences they can provide for die student. A bonus for one student was attending meetings with decision-makers from state agencies and reinforcing writing skills through a journalism-related project.


One student's survey mentioned that their internship organization let them attend meetings of substantial importance to the agency. The student felt they were respected enough to be included in this meeting, which led to feelings of acceptance.

General enthusiasm toward attending agency events, programs and meetings was conveyed by a majority of the student interns. Inclusion in such meetings and company news will not only give die student a sense of acceptance, but they will also become more aware of the background of the agency and how it functions. They will be useful to participants, die community, and future employees by being confident of their knowledge.

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Coming directly from the classroom into the internship experience can benefit the agency by giving the most current applications being taught by professors. The practical experience gained in an internship will stimulate the learning mind-set with new knowledge from a practitioner's point of view.

A Sense of Openness

Open lines of communication play a key role in the efficiency and the effectiveness of an internship program. Students want to know how well they are doing through agency evaluations conversations. This feedback is valuable to the professional growth of the student. It can serve as explanation of the areas they are doing well and the areas in which they need to improve. The more open their supervisor is, the more likely the student will be willing to express their concerns or ask questions before the engaging a new challenge.

A Mentor

A mentor can help the student acclimate to the new environment and serve as a confidant and friend who helps guide them through these potentially tough months. The mentor will help with any problems, and entertain the student's ideas, useful or otherwise, with an open mind. The mentor gives the student a sense of trusted guidance a personal friend can give with the bonus rule of being their teacher. They will help transform a student into a professional.

Students' Concerns

Students who completed the survey while completing an internship gave some insight into the concerns and expectations they had prior to their internship experience. In general, students were nervous that their years in the classroom would not give them the knowledge to effectively contribute to the agency. Students feared they would make mistakes because of this lack of knowledge and therefore feel incompetent. Many of the students added that their apprehension was relieved once engaged in the intern programs.

Another concern was that the responsibilities given to them would not be extensive enough or they would not be well defined. Sometimes internship positions do not carry the weight or responsibilities that these students need to cultivate their talents. Not all tasks will be structured, but the student will need to understand the basic guidelines of a project for successful completion. Guidance, as stated before, will be crucial for the student to get the experience they need for the future.

Acceptance by other co-workers can help or deter the student from communicating with the staff. If they feel that they are being disregarded rather than encouraged, they may shy away from giving ideas through fear of rejection.

Resources for Starting an Internship Program

If your agency is interested in starting an internship program, here is a starting point:

• Attend career fairs at statewide colleges and universities.

• Send information about your agency to educational institutions with recreation and park departments.

• Attend state and national conferences and network with students.

• Place information about job openings on your Web site.

• Contact other agencies who have internship programs and inquire how they got started.

- Kristin Collard

Internships can cause concerns for both the student and the agency staff members, but the final product of a well-planned internship program can be very beneficial for both parties. Most of the surveyed interns expressed a general enthusiasm toward their new positions and felt that they were getting a great experience.

With proper guidance and a well-planned internship program, future interns can become a strong foundation for future development of agency programs and services.

is a graduate student at Western Illinois University working toward a master's degree in Recreation. in the summer of 1999, she completed a successful internship program with the Illinois Association of Park Districts.

34 | Illinois Parks and Recreation

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