Welcome back internship mentors! Last time we looked at the initial startup process for internships. Now, I’ll look further into great internship course assignments, your work to setup the student and the site for success, and resources that helped me springboard into being a better mentor. I’ll start by offering some ideas for assignments.

Course Assignments

There are many different assignments that might be helpful to a student you are mentoring for an internship, and many of these may be specific to your institution or field or to the student’s placement organization. What is cross-cutting for experiential learning of this type is the value of reflection. Let me say it again: reflection, reflection, reflection! In Pam Kiser’s work on the Integrative Processing Model (Kiser 2014), she suggests a six-step process for students to reflect on their field experience:

  1. Gather data from concrete experience by making observations from their work.
  2. Reflect on how their experience related to their personal history, their assumptions and values, and their own behavior and skills.
  3. Identify relevant knowledge from the course work and academic preparation.
  4. Examine and reconcile any points of dissonance between their experiences.
  5. Articulate their learning in writing by discussing what they have learned about themselves as well as the field.
  6. Develop a plan for future action based on their learning and reflection.

Written reflection based on this model or others is a key tool for helping students process their experiences.

Assignments might also focus more directly on the professional development side, by having students research the history of their organization/field, complete and reflect on an informational interview with a person in a career that they aspire to, investigate support for diversity in the workplace, or by having students conduct/view communication practice exercises.

Assignments should also directly address the field/academic integration in a manner appropriate to your discipline. This might take the form of a research paper, case study, or presentation focused on a topic that has arisen in the student’s placement (I, for example, have students in clinical placements and ask for a research paper on a specific disorder that they have seen). Number and length of assignments should be commensurate with your institution’s expectations per credit hour, with an adjustment if students are not taking a “full” course (e.g., at my institution students may register for a variable number of hours and I scale the assignments accordingly).

Additional Student Preparation

Once the placement, logistics, and syllabus are in place, it is time to prepare the student for the work experience. This is another place to partner with the career development team as you help the student think about professional dress, communication, work behavior, etc. This is a good time to have conversations with students about any needs that they have, and any concerns that they may have about their work placement. You might have students write a positionality statement about how they feel their identity and background may mesh with their placement’s values and location and invite conversations around safety and belongingness. This is also a time to discuss any risks to the student (or the university or placement) and what appropriate and ethical behavior looks like for all partners).

Relationship with the Placement Site

I have discussed the relationship between you and the student and career services, but this is missing a critical component: the placement site and the student’s contact(s) there. Although the student will be in touch with them regularly, it is also important for you as the mentor to make at least two contacts (possibly more) with the site liaison. At the beginning of the placement, it is essential to contact the site supervisor to make sure that you are all in alignment regarding expectations for the experience. Sharing contact information, the syllabus, and any documentation on their side, and getting connected early on will help facilitate a good experience for the student. A site visit is ideal if possible. The site supervisor should also have an evaluative component for the student at the end of the experience that you may wish to include in the student’s grading. I always offer for the supervisor to contact me at any time to maintain an open line of communication.

One Last Consideration: Access

I have done extensive research within my institution regarding barriers to accessing internships. Truthfully, because internships were a relatively manageable part of my own college experience, I did not initially consider the ways that they can be challenging for many students, and this was an oversight on my part that I hope to prevent on yours. The first challenge is the unpaid internship. While many internships in professional fields do come with some pay, most, especially in the arts and sciences, do not. This means that students sometimes pay travel, rent, expenses, and tuition and then do not get paid, essentially paying thousands of dollars for work experience while missing out on the opportunity for paid work! Although I would argue that this is problematic for anyone, this is a significant barrier particularly for lower income students. The second, and related, challenge to consider is the need to go to a specific location for an internship. Staff at our university that support students of color on our campus discussed with me that moving to a new city without connections is a bigger barrier for students of color than it often is for white students, which may inadvertently limit opportunities for our students who have been historically marginalized. Virtual internships are revolutionizing access at this moment, which can help reduce barriers of cost and travel, but these are still issues that we need to be attentive to as mentors. Understanding your student’s needs as well as having working knowledge of potential supports (university housing, scholarships, etc.) is an important part of your role as a mentor as well. Other CEL scholars have addressed this concern in the lens of experiential education from several perspectives (Longmire-Avital 2022).

Excellent Resources for Mentors

I’d like to close by pointing you to several resources that have improved my skillset and understanding of the field immensely. I have referred throughout to “internships” but (as you may know as a CEL reader!) internships fall under a larger heading of “work-integrated learning (WIL).” Using this search term opens many doors to helpful knowledge!

I would first recommend regular review of the International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning: https://www.ijwil.org  When I enter a new field I often need help getting my bearing on the literature and this is the place to do just that!

I would also recommend A Practical Guide to Work Integrated Learning assembled by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario: https://heqco.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/HEQCO_WIL_Guide_ENG_ACC.pdf. This collection provides a fabulous overview of the field of WIL along with educational models, assessment ideas, and more.

I would also direct you back to the main internship page on CEL’s site for a discussion of major questions, key research, and best practices in the field: https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/resources/internships/.


Fleming, CJ. 2022. “Faculty Mentors Start Here! Mentoring Undergraduate Internships When You’re New to the Game.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. November 3, 2022. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/faculty-mentors-start-here-mentoring-undergraduate-internships-when-youre-new-to-the-game.

Kiser, Pamela. 2014. The Human Service Internship: Getting the Most from Your Experience (4th ed.). Boston: Cengage.

Longmire-Avital, Buffie. 2022. “An Equitable High-Impact Practice Must Be Psychosocially Safe and Reflective of All Identities.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. October 11, 2022. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/an-equitable-high-impact-practice-must-be-psychosocially-safe-and-reflective-of-all-identities.

Stirling, Ashley, Gretchen Kerr, Jenessa Banwell, Ellen MacPherson, and Amanda Heron. 2010. A Practical Guide for Work-Integrated Learning. https://heqco.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/HEQCO_WIL_Guide_ENG_ACC.pdf.

CJ Eubanks Fleming is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Elon University, where she serves the Faculty Fellow for Internships in the College of Arts and Sciences. In this role she evaluates department- and university-level data regarding internship outcomes, shares internship best practices with faculty, and serves as a liaison between faculty/ students and the university’s career center. She also serves as a seminar leader for the 2022-2024 research seminar on Work-Integrated Learning.

How to Cite this Post

Fleming, CJ. 2022. “Faculty Mentors Start Here! Part 2: Diving Deeper on Setting Up the Internships for Success.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. November 8, 2022. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/faculty-mentors-start-here-part-2-diving-deeper-on-setting-up-the-internships-for-success.