Student Internships: An Effective Assessment Model

Internships are integral parts of many professional degree programs. Potentially, they make significant contributions to an educational experience. “Well-organized and carefully supervised programs enhance the student’s ability to integrate academic knowledge with practical application, improve job/career opportunities after graduation, create relevance for past and future classroom learning, develop work place social and human relations skills, and provide the opportunity for students to apply communication and problem-solving skills.” (p. 208) Deborah F. Beard identifies these contributions in an article on assessing internship experiences in the field of accounting.

The value of an internship experience is enhanced when that experience is carefully and systematically assessed. Beard notes that the evaluations of the accounting internship experience she describes “provide information about students’ traits, knowledge, skills, and behaviors as well as perspectives on coursework, activities, and suggested curriculum changes.” (p. 211) The challenge is finding those assessment mechanisms that work well to assess internship experiences. Obviously, a multiple-choice exam is not especially useful. In the accounting internship that Beard describes, students begin by identifying a set of goals and objectives for their internship experience. These goals are used to help place students in appropriate internships and provide the overarching framework for the assessment of their performance in the internship.

Students doing internships in this program complete a weekly diary/journal that logs their experiences and insights gained from them. Students also send regular emails to their on-campus internship supervisors. At the conclusion of the internship, they prepare a paper that includes an overview of the accounting field, an overview of the company where the internship was completed, a reaction to the internship, and an evaluation of it based on its relationship to previously completed coursework. This paper is accompanied by an oral presentation. All these materials are assessed by the on-campus internship supervisor. A student’s performance during the internship is evaluated by the on-site supervisor as well.

Both students and on-site supervisors are given opportunities to assess the internship program and their experiences associated with it. This feedback helps those responsible for the program to adjust course content, assignments, and activities so that the degree program curriculum and the internship are coordinated and integrated learning experiences.

Even though this article describes an assessment plan for internships in accounting, it offers an excellent model of a comprehensive approach to assessment. It is also very helpful because various sample materials are included in the article, such as a set of guidelines for employers supervising internships, a detailed list of components students are expected to include in their internship papers, and the form on-site internship supervisors use to evaluate students. For anyone just beginning an internship program, these materials are excellent models. And for those with programs, this article offers materials useful for comparative purposes.

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

Excerpted from Assessing Internships, April 2009, The Teaching Professor.