Internship requirement reaps reward

Photo: Mary Wandschneider teaches a course on internships in the Department of Human Development. (Photo by Robert Hubner, WSU Photo Services).

Graduates, excited about their major, might be forced to take a job outside their field of interest because that’s all they can find. It happens, but not so much in the Department of Human Development.

Chair Thomas Power said a lot of the credit goes to the department’s long-established and well-structured internship program.

“In my mind, it’s really one of the most important things they do here,” he said. “I think it really gives students a good running start.”

Mary Wandschneider, internship supervisor and an instructor in the department, agrees.

“By the end of the 10 weeks they have a totally different sense of their knowledge level,” she said. They feel confident of their ability to find a job and make meaningful contributions there.

Insider knowledge
Despite extensive preparation before the internship and development of a learning plan, most students have only a limited idea of what they will be doing until they are actually on the job. However, Wandschneider said, once there the learning curve is incredible and they come back with valuable “insider knowledge” that not only boosts their confidence, but makes them very attractive job applicants.

Indeed, for some of them, a job is waiting.
“About 60 to 70 percent of our students are offered a job at the same agency where they do their internship,” she said. “It’s a great way to get a foot in the door.”

And once in, those students don’t look back. According to a 2004 telephone survey of human development graduates, 79 percent of them were still working in human services, some even 25 years later, Wandschneider said.

1,200 partners
Human development has been requiring internships of all bachelor’s graduates since 1976. The internship must be a minimum of 180 hours and at least 10 weeks long.

The department has a database of more than 1,200 agencies where students have been placed, Wandschneider said. Most are in Washington, but because human development also offers a distance degree program, other sites are across the country.
Locally, internship partners include Head Start, Washington Child Protective Services, the Council on Aging, the YMCA and the Community Action Center.

A higher level
In a pre-internship course, students assess their own skills, explore various internship opportunities, discuss work skills such as maintaining client confidentiality, practice applying for an internship and then actually apply. Once they secure a placement, they must write learning goals and meet with a mentor to create an internship plan.

And then there are the legal issues of liability insurance and background checks to take care of.

During the internship there are written assignments to complete and regular contact between all three parties involved — the student, the mentor and Wandschneider. It’s a lot of work, she said, but it’s worth it.

“They don’t just go and get something … like a summer job,” she said. “Their internship position is usually at a higher level than the kind of job they’d be able to get just after graduation.”
But it lets them know where they are headed, if that’s where they choose to go.