Assessing Social Science Internships Using the Business Model

student at internship

Regardless of the academic program, internships can be a key piece of any student’s academic experience. In my involvement as an internship coordinator for political science, the only assessment model I had was what I knew from my experience as an undergraduate and graduate student. This included working with faculty to identify an internship opportunity, being placed, accomplishing a minimum number of hours, writing a journal of daily activities, and writing a reflection paper on the overall experience and its relation to my academic coursework. Once these minimum requirements were satisfied, a passing grade was bestowed, given that internships are a pass/fail class. Now, as a faculty member, I had become concerned that a more rigorous assessment was needed.

Internships provide an opportunity for students to have a hands-on experience and use what they learn in the classroom as well as increase their chances for employment after graduation. However, the internship experience, as a class, requires more academic rigor to ensure that students, those who have taken on the interns, and the university itself are benefiting from this activity. This can be accomplished through better assessment.

As I was beginning to explore possible enhancements to improve the political science internship program, a colleague in the business department offered a workshop on how business internships are run. Using a similar model set up by Beard (2007), whose practical applications for business internships are discussed by Weimer (2010), the director of business internships explained their method for assessing internships. Using this model, the internship program for political science was redesigned, and following approval by the political science faculty, the new assessment standards were shared with students via the redesigned syllabus.

There were several key elements that were implemented from the business internship assessment model. First, students are assigned a weekly activity report that could be e-mailed to the internship director. Weekly activity reports require students to write about their internship experience, explaining how the internship activities they did might be helpful to them and how classes prepared them for what they encountered. Second, students must fill out a weekly time sheet and have it signed by their immediate supervisor at their internship placement to accurately track the amount of time spent on-site. Finally, students must write a reflection paper on their internship experience. The paper requires them to reflect on how the internship helped them, what they learned during the internship, whether the internship made them more or less interested in the field in which they interned, and how the experience affected their professional and academic goals.

Another component we adopted from the business department’s model is to require three evaluations. Interns are evaluated by their direct supervisor at their internship twice, once halfway through the internship and again at the end. The midway evaluation allows the faculty adviser and intern to address any problems the supervisor may have identified, and it can be used as a tool to compare to the final evaluation. It shows professional growth and improvement. At the end of the internship, students are asked to evaluate their placement. This evaluation is useful to ensure students felt comfortable in their placement surroundings, were treated respectfully by those they worked with, and were performing meaningful work during the internship. This instrument is also helpful when considering future placements, or in extreme cases, no longer placing students in an internship location.

An interesting aspect that was a personal addition for the business faculty at our university, and one I did incorporate into the political science internship, is the requirement for students to send a thank-you letter, card, or e-mail to their supervisor at the end of the internship. Some may balk at this as part of an internship grade, but it offers some key benefits. It is a good habit for students to express gratitude, and it is an excellent method for building goodwill with those who agree to take on interns. The only aspect of the business model for internship assessment that was not yet integrated into the political science program was changing the internship class from a pass/fail grade to a letter grade.

Adding extra assessments into an internship program, such as those recommended in business internships, ensures that an internship is a meaningful and academically rigorous experience. In addition, as accreditation bodies and universities demand proof of learning, creating better assessments of internship programs fulfills this need. Ultimately, adopting the business model of internship assessment for one of the social sciences was not a difficult process and greatly improved the internship experience for all involved.

Beard, D. F. (2007). Assessment of internship experiences and accounting core competencies. Accounting Education, 16 (2), 207–220.

Weimer, M. (2010). Student Internships: An Effective Assessment Model. Faculty Focus. Accessed August 19, 2014.

Chad Kinsella is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.