Don’t forget about Nonprofits

We often hear from Internship Coordinators who want to expand their number of placement sites. Many do not consider including nonprofits because they do not see the nonprofit as a business and schools, students and parents link internships with gaining business experience. However, there are two strong reasons to expand internships experiences to include nonprofits.

First, according to a New York Times article that while “the overall economy has been expanding slowly…nonprofits have been growing at a breakneck pace (Anna Bernesek “For Nonprofits a Bigger Share of the Action,” NY Times March 9, 2014).

The article continues that “all told, roughly 1.6 million nonprofits employed 10 percent of the domestic work force in 2010 and accounted for 5 percent of G.D.P.” While many nonprofits are charities others include advocacy groups like the Sierra Club, or local historical societies and conservation groups, sports leagues, local theater groups, and health care services.

Some of this growth in nonprofits can be linked to demographics. As the population ages there is a higher demand for health care services. And the challenging economic climate over the past 5 has increased the needs of poorer Americans.

Second, while many young people may have been involved with a nonprofit in a community service program or as an individual volunteer, an internship gives them a greater opportunity to understand and experience the challenges of the nonprofit today and in the future. An internship at a nonprofit which is part of a school’s structured internship program allows the young person to be an intern rather than a volunteer. Interns will learn how the organization is funded, identify the target market, work on publicity campaigns, become involved in the strategic planning and learn to manage the many volunteers upon whom the nonprofit depends. With the right learning plan and structured experience an internship at a nonprofit is comparable to one at any well-known business.

Today’s young people want to make a difference. And doing an internship with a nonprofit will help them learn solid skills and at the same time enable them to make a significant contribution to their community.

It seems likely that nonprofits will continue to grow and play a vital role in the economy. And now is the time to widen our thinking and include nonprofits in our internship plans.

Paid Internships are a Red Herring

The nationwide increase in internships for new college graduates has begun the debate as to whether or not interns need to be paid. This debate, however important in today’s economy, should not shape how internships are offered for high school and community college students.

Internships for students in high schools and the first year of community college are very different than those undertaken by older college students, graduates and job changers. At least, they should be. Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Earn Little in the Brave New Economy, has made the case that all workers, whether they’re teens or not, deserve to be paid for their services.

Perlin asks:

“Are we simply extending down to younger and younger ages the same kind of inequality, the same skewed playing field that unpaid internships have been creating more generally?”

Is he assuming that teens who are interns are there only to do work for their employer or organization?

We believe that internship experiences for high school and community college students offer more that work experience. Internships, when driven by the school, ensure that the intern is in a rich learning environment where she cannot only apply what she knows but learn and practice new skills and competencies which are key to success in a future career and higher education. It’s not the internship but what a student has learned from the experience.

Learning cannot be left to the student alone. The school needs to set standards, define the criteria for success and evaluate learning to help the student gain the most from her experience. And most importantly, the adults, both teachers and the sponsoring employer, need to help the intern reflect on the experience, and translate what she has learned into language useful on résumés and in interviews for the future School designed and sponsored internships can level the playing field ensuring that low income and minority students have the same opportunities for quality internships as all other students. Leaving finding an internship to the student alone means that students who are connected through friends and family or who have had a wide early exposure to different industries and professions will seek out an internship while those who are not connected and who have had only narrow early exposure to different careers will not. Paying interns does not mean that the playing field will be level. All it means is that students who find internships will get paid.

The way to ensure that good quality internships are available to ALL students is for the school to design a program that has internship opportunities in a variety of different organizations including nonprofits, businesses, educational organizations, local municipal government and elected government. The school designs the site specific learning with the sponsoring organization making sure that students are applying their knowledge and learning critical skills needed for success, ensuring that any problems regarding placement and ongoing activities are addressed, ensuring that students have opportunities for reflection and practice and that learning is evaluated. The school is there to make the internship experience one of quality and one in which the student can succeed.

No Back Rows in Internships

Student engagement is a challenge today. High Schools and Community Colleges are continually looking for ways to ensure that their students are and continue to be engaged in their learning. Many classes are larger than ever and often students, especially in community colleges, self-select their seating.

The students who are most engaged with the material or the subject will choose to sit toward the front of the classroom. These are the students who readily ask and answer questions, demand more information or seek you out at the end of class. But what of those students who populate the last rows? Often they are quiet, will speak when called upon but do not jump to answer questions. They do their classwork and homework but too often maintain a C average. They do not clown around or disrupt the class. And they get little attention in class.

These back row students may not be engaged in the activities around them. It is hard to know if they are checking their Facebook page, messaging or surfing the net on their smart phones. Or they may simply be staring out of the window or asleep. These are the students we know can do better academically and may indeed have much to offer. But how do we get them engaged, especially today, when both time and resources are limited?

As schools and colleges look to increase their high impact practices to get and keep their students engaged in learning many are including internships as part of this strategy. We see more and more of the most ambitious students seek out internship opportunities and we hear from them about how important their internship has been in their school or college experience.

However, internships can be a critical way to get and keep our back row students engaged. In his blog Andrew Marcinek (Ten simple strategies for re-engaging students 11/21/2010) lists “Learn Beyond the Walls” as the number two strategy for student re-engagement.

First year college students who participate in at least one high impact practice such as an internship report “greater gain in their knowledge, skills and personal development” and were “more satisfied with their educational experience” (National Survey of Student Engagement 2013).

While internships have been shown to be key to student re-engagement, internships must be structured, provide challenging learning, have opportunities for reflection and help the student build those all-important one-to-one adult relationships in the workplace. For internships to be of high value for our back row students they must be an integral part of the school or college curriculum. When making that first step into the adult world of work students need the support of their school or college.

In this time of high pressure in education we must not forget about our back row students. We must find ways to ensure that all our students are able to meet their potential.

writing college essay

Use That Internship for a College Essay

The college essay may not be as important as it once was for college admission but it does count. A good essay can show what is important to a student and even make up for some average grades.

Look at this article that was in EdWeek about how doing an internship in high school can be the basis of a quality college essay.


Let us know if your students have used their internship experience as a basis for their college essay.


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high school student intern

Make Way for High School Interns

Make way for HS internsInternships have been around for a long time. And today internships are becoming more popular with high school students. Student see the value of internships as a way to strengthen their resume, get some real world experience and give them an edge in college admissions.

Check out this article on high school internships. Let us know if your students want to do an internship before they graduate.

And let us know what you are doing so that the internship experience for your students is one of value and not one of “grunt work” only.



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Take a chance on me

Take A Chance on Me

Too often schools offer internships only to those highly motivated kids who know about them or can find one on their own. And sometimes kids whose families don’t have professional connections or don’t know where to find internships are left out.

Take a look at what one company has done to reach those kids who may feel disconnected. How it uses internships to foster a sense of success and confidence in high school students.

Let us know if you have used internships to pull back those disengaged students so that they can not only graduate but also gain a sense of success and make connections with adults who can help them think about their futures.



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Cost of 4 year degree

The Rising Cost of a Four-Year Degree

The cost of a 4-year degree in both public and private universities is climbing and is a major concern for many parents and students when considering the best path after high school or community college.

“Salaries and income in the United States have basically been flat or declining over the last couple of years. And back in 2001, it took the average family less than 25 percent of their paycheck to go to college. Today, it takes 40 percent of their paycheck to go to college.” (Jeff Selingo, author of “College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students,” and contributing editor to “The Chronicle of Higher Education.”)

“While undergraduate education is typically billed as a four-year experience, many students, particularly at public universities, actually take five, six or even more years to attain a degree.”


Expensive college educationIt’s no wonder then that parents hope their children graduate in 4 years. They know that any additional time will cost money and add to student debt. However, too often students are not sure what they want to study when they start college and some change majors, sometimes more than once, which can lead to additional required courses and additional semesters in school. “Some of our highest debt carriers were here longer than four years, and they changed their majors along the way.” says Melanie Weaver, the director of financial aid at Ohio Northern, a private university in Ada in northwestern Ohio.

Many students have told us that they are not sure of what they want to do when they finish college. Many did not even know what career options they have. This is true for high school and community college students.

It is no wonder that students find themselves choosing and studying in an area where they have little or no real interest.

High schools can help ensure that students have a clear and realistic plan for their future by the time they graduate if students have opportunities to do internships.

A well-structured internship, or better yet a number of internships, when students are in high school or community college helps them explore career avenues. Some will find that their internship eliminates a career that they thought they would like. Others find that the internship points them in a direction where they want to go. When it comes time to choose a college major students who have had internships will have the knowledge they need to make a choice that is right for them.

However, it is important for any internship experience to be one that is challenging and one that enables the student to experience a variety of activities in the work environment. Work is not one dimensional and it falls on the internship designer or coordinator to make sure that students are challenged and have the opportunity to explore the different dimensions of a job.

Well-structured and robust internship experiences will help students know what they want to do in the future. They will also help students get on the road which is right for them.

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Make last semester count

Make That Last Semester Really Count

Too often that last semester in high school or community college can be one where students may be there physically but mentally they are thinking about the end of school. With most required courses completed students are finishing any elective requirements and waiting to move on. Community college students may be planning to transfer to a 4-year college or start a career and high school seniors are looking forward to college or moving on to the world of work.

Why not use these months to help students build the skills they will need for success in whatever path they decide to travel?

With a well-structured internship students have the opportunity to learn and practice new skills while still under the protective umbrella of the school. Students are NOT left on their own to find their way in a work environment but are guided and supported by the school as they take that next step into adulthood. A quality internship, whether as part of a senior project or as an elective course will allow the student to:

  • Apply his knowledge and learning in the real world
  • Build critical skills of team working, achievement focus and time management
  • Build Networking relationships
  • Establish a mentoring relationship in the real world
  • Work on projects that provide value to his sponsoring organization

However, any internship must be meaningful. It needs to be structured with challenging goals and activities, have the involvement of the sponsoring organization, have a variety of ways for the intern to demonstrate his learning and have an opportunity for the intern to reflect on and consolidate his learning.

Students who do an internship in their last semester want to have the opportunity to show their school what they have achieved. Many schools provide a capstone activity that is a way for students to show how they have linked their classroom learning to their achievements in their internship. This may be in the form of a formal Project Presentation or Exhibit in the school or college or may be a more informal presentation to their work colleagues and sponsoring organization.

Quality internships should be integrated into the school’s curriculum so they are not perceived as an add-on activity. And ideally students should know that internships are how they will consolidate their learning and move on to the next phase of their life.
As Lori Desautels, Professor in the School of Education Marian University says internships “could become meaningful learning in these adolescent years for students driven by a personal sense of autonomy, purpose and mastery.”

Internship Quest Mentor

Response to “It Takes a Mentor”: The Value of a Mentor

A recent Gallup Poll shows the importance of a mentor. According to that poll “Successful “students had one or more teachers who were mentors and took a real interest in their aspirations, and they had an internship related to what they were learning in school.”

Internships for all students, whether they are testing out a career or getting real world experience in their chosen field, should include a workplace mentor. Students have told us again and again that they want someone in their internship workplace who will provide guidance.

The internship mentor is the one who is there to answer any questions, deal with immediate workplace problems, make sure the intern is included in department meetings and is able to attend any training sessions.

Often the intern’s immediate supervisor is busy with the day-to-day work demands and can forget to include the intern in some of the department’s activities.

The mentor often becomes a role model for the intern. Many times the mentor is the person who can help the intern figure out his or her future.

Check out this recent article by Tom Friedman in the New York Times.


Let us know your experience working with or being a mentor to an intern.

college classroom lecture

Why Do an Internship if I’m Going to College?

Students sometimes can’t see the value of doing an internship if they are college-bound.

Check out this article about why internships are important for college admissions.

Let us know if you have found internships for college-bound students help prepare them for the college admission and the college experience.


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