So, you want to start an academic internship program?

So, you want to start an academic internship program?

Caleb John Clark

I have a story to share about the creation of an academic internship program at the Gary and Jerri-Anne Jacobs High Tech High. We have had about 130 internship placements in the field over three trimesters, and this September was our first full trimester, with 52 students placed at 35 local organizations.

The Situation I Entered

I began working at High Tech High (HTH) in San Diego in January 2002 at the beginning of the third trimester of the school’s internship program. The program’s creator and coordinator, Rebecca Haddock, had been promoted to Vice Principal of Student Affairs and Director of Outreach at HTH, and I was to step in as her replacement as coordinator.

She was a hard act to follow. Rebecca, who wore business suits and held a phone like a Samurai holds his sword, had never worked in a high school. Before going to HTH, she worked for six years as a career counselor and taught career development graduate courses at the University of San Diego. Previous to that, she’d worked for two years as employer outreach coordinator for the greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce. She was in most of the loops in San Diego, from human resources groups, to the Regional Technology Association, to the Economic Development Council.

Rebecca had been hired in January 2001 to design and start HTH’s Academic Internship Program, and she did it basically from her local contacts from years of networking in the business community. Her brain was the program’s database, documentation, records, and protocols.

The program’s first two test trimesters were successful by the sheer force of Rebecca’s personality with a half load of students in the field, and outreach was tight with the local business community. Then she got promoted to vice principal, and she knew she needed help, both technical and with coordination, if the program was going to survive a full load of students and new staff.

Why Me?

The year before, I’d been director of the Padres Ballpark Advanced Technology Lab (BAT_LAB), a testing and showcase space for technology being considered for the San Diego Padres new downtown baseball park. Rebecca had approached me about doing a project with five student interns, and we designed one called “ballparks of the future.” The students amazed me with the resulting research on what high school kids wanted from the new ballpark. So, the next term I took on two interns during the first trimester of the program–and we had a ball. I particularly liked project managing interns and taking them under my wing. The project we crafted was to write a specifications document of the Lab’s network. The interns thought I was torturing them with endless drafts and format obsessing, but when their documents were cited as an example of a well-run internship by their principal and posted publicly, they saw the light.

And I saw the light from being a mentor, with two experiences in particular that showed me the power of internships.

1. The Lab had some very successful business people who provided inspiration to our interns come through its doors. One such intern, Ryan, was fascinated about becoming an entrepreneur. One day I asked a very successful CEO and entrepreneur if he could give Ryan five minutes of his time to ask a question. He said yes; I introduced Ryan (whom I’d coached on asking one question and bringing a pad of paper to write down the answer); and stepped back to watch. They talked as two adults for 45 minutes–and Ryan later showed me a pad full of notes and said his head was spinning.

2. Once I brought my other intern, Nick, to a high-level meeting, only to have him fidget, doodle, and look at anything but the people in the meeting. Afterwards I sat Nick down and explained that if he ever wanted to come to another meeting, he had to stare fixedly at whoever was speaking, take notes, and ask one question. We talked about why this was done and practiced doing it at a few internal meetings. We also talked about why going to meetings was good, since that was often where things that affect your working life are decided. I remember at one point Nick said, “I had no idea meetings were so complex. Nobody ever explained it to me.” A mentor was born.

I was hired by HTH to coordinate the academic internship program based on those experiences, my background in Web development, and my master’s degree in educational technology. My job description was a sort of hybrid coordinator/geek with three main tasks:

1. Coordinator–Devise and implement policies for sustained functioning of the program at full capacity. Place interns. Coach mentors and teachers.

2. Developer–Digitize Rebecca’s head by building a tracking database for interns and organizations. Write and publish a Field Manual for students, mentors, and teachers.

3. Media Creator–Provide resulting resources for HTH Learning, the replication branch of HTH tasked with making nine more HTHs around the United States.

If the program doesn’t work at HTH, it can’t be replicated elsewhere–the pressure was on!

Experiences Along the Timeline

September 2000: The Beginning of Time

After three years of planning, HTH opens with 200 ninth and tenth graders piled into a converted Naval Training warehouse, and plans for 100 more freshmen to be accepted each year for two more years. Due to high-profile local corporate backing, the local press is a-buzz. The school’s core mission stresses real-world immersion, but the specifics of the internship program are undefined at this point.

January-March 2001: The Beginning of Internship Time

Rebecca Haddock is hired to design and build the internship program at HTH. She wisely takes a trimester and a summer to plan and network and meets with consultant Rob Riordan and HTH’s principal and CEO Larry Rosenstock, who worked on the New Urban Schools project together.

Rebecca designs a program around employers’ convenience. This means a consistent schedule for student interns of Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for four to five hours each day, requiring no pay, and providing their own transportation. Isn’t it heresy to put organizations first, you might say? Don’t the students always come first? Isn’t this all for them? The answer is: yes of course, but in this case putting the students first means putting the organizations first. Internships are in the business world, and the business world puts its organizations first. While moral and pro-bono heart tugs may get you in the door, if a program is too complex, too time consuming, or not helpful to the organization’s bottom line, it will not last. Keeping organizations happy is putting the students first, because that’s how you are able to have rich internship opportunities.

The HTH curriculum is designed around project-based learning and weekly humanities classes in the eleventh and twelfth grades, using the internship as a primary text. Assignments include a project description, journaling, and presentations. Each intern is matched with a mentor, and two internships would be required to graduate. Professional development (resumes and practice interviews, for example) would happen during the ninth and tenth grades. To involve the community even more, site visits and “power lunches,” where the leaders of organizations share lunch with students, were also planned.

Rebecca crafted an internship agreement form, a transportation form for all student drivers, and an alliance with a local shuttle company to help navigate San Diego’s sprawling geography and limited public transit.

The last big hurdles were legal ones: establishing that HTH covered all liability insurance while students were on site and defining an intellectual property document that waived the students’ and families’ right to sue an organization later over royalties of anything invented or produced on site.

Meanwhile, Rebecca was on the phone letting all her contacts know what she was up to.

April-June 2001: Projects and Placement

Rebecca teams up with Jennifer, a humanities teacher who is totally bought-in to the process (which we’ll find out later is especially challenging), and starts teaching professional development in her classes every week. She also initiates five projects with groups of students working on campus but with local companies (including with me at the BAT_LAB), and begins placement for the next trimester of students from a pool of 50 of the most motivated eleventh graders.

Rebecca’s first placement efforts entailed, according to her, “Going out and telling employers what I was doing and asking them how they wanted to play.” This was key. She establishes different levels of involvement with the idea always to increase the involvement level slowly, as they see the positive effects of being affiliated with HTH. She starts with site visits or power lunches and tours of the school and moves to internships and hopefully to sponsorship. Also, a protocol of site-approval visits and visiting each student on his or her internship, every trimester, is put into place. This is difficult, but facilitates networking by getting face-to-face at least every few months with mentors.

Out of the pool of 50 students, 33 successfully go on time-consuming, escorted placement interviews. Some examples of local organizations she was dealing with include Junior Achievement and Senior Olympics (both nonprofits), a high-end law firm, Fish & Richardson, several downtown Web media companies, a local school, Qualcomm, Kyocera, and the Navy’s SPAWAR Systems.

September-December 2001: First Students in the Field

The first 33 students enter the field. On campus the buzz has started among students about internships actually becoming a reality.

Larry Rosenstock asks Rebecca to arrange a big event to showcase internship projects every trimester. The first event is planned for December.

The night of the first internship event rolls around, and the students and mentors gather to meet each other with plenty of schmooze time provided to see what the interns had done. It was a wild success.

* Devere, an African-American student who had been convinced to intern at a prestigious law firm despite her desire to be a teacher, comments that she didn’t know that many black people worked in places like that, and to her surprise, that she loved her internship. But she still wanted to be a teacher.

* Qualcomm interns showcase a training manual they wrote and told of how surprised they were at how long it takes to do multiple drafts for review and publication.

* The SPAWAR’s Systems Center robotics internship turns out to be extremely rich for students, who actually build and work on robots, and very casual, once they get past the security guards.

The event’s success solidifies its need, but at the same time, the time-consuming nature of its planning results in changing it to an annual event versus a trimester event.

The experience of the first trimester re-enforces that placement is more of an art form than an exact science. Listing companies and letting students pick their preferred placements turns out not to be the way to go, because students will pick what they think is cool and leave organizations empty that should be filled. Rebecca also starts building competition among students by announcing certain new organizations’ commitments at weekly school-wide meetings and making sure students know when a place has filled up.

Meanwhile, during the trimester, Rebecca had continued to do professional development teaching and placed 30 more students in internships for the next trimester.

And then she got promoted to vice principal of student affairs and director of outreach at HTH.

January–March 2002: Second Trimester

I’m hired. Thirty students enter the field. The first thing I do is panic. Being a techie, I blink and stammer when I find no digital databases, document control, policy protocols, Web presence, etc. Being a project manager, I freak out when I find no published internship syllabus or fixed assignment criteria.

Then, to make matters worse, Rebecca’s key ally in the teaching staff has a baby and goes on maternity leave before I get settled in. Rebecca is now teaching professional development in a new humanities teacher’s class. The teacher, Janie, is not bought-in at this early point and none too happy about having a member of the dreaded administration in her class every week. And to add insult to injury, Rebecca runs out of time for teaching due to her promotion, and throws me into the class. From this experience, Janie, Rebecca, and I work out our new mantra for the program: “Teachers teach, mentors mentor, and coordinators coordinate.”

But would the teachers buy-in? To test the waters, I slowly phase out of teaching in Janie’s class and draft a syllabus standardizing on five consistent assignments:

1. Project Description: One page, 200 words. Business format.

2. Mentor Interview: Questions for the start of an internship.

3. Journal: 100 words a week. Emailed to advisor, teacher, and myself.

4. Presentation: Final project presented to a group at school or at the internship.

5. Updated Resume: For adding the internship.

This amounted to about 30 percent of each student’s grade. It may not sound like much work, but as a baseline it is plenty, if you’re really making sure each and every student completes all five tasks.

At this point, I ask myself: Am I crazy for needing digital tools? Following my training in instructional design, I do a needs assessment and talk to the coordinators of six other similar programs. They all report using databases, and their person hours make it evident that our internship program is not in line with resources allocated, while half my time is taken up building the database and educational media. This knowledge, combined with Rebecca’s promotion scaling her back to one-third time on internships, causes us to realize that it’s a fool’s errand to commit to two mandatory internships, at least for the next year. After several meetings and debates, we scale back to only one mandatory internship per student, with several encouraged and supported.

That settled, we initiate a six-month plan for bringing the program to full capacity and in line with resources by September 2002. Rebecca and I determine that this will entail getting a database and documentation and moving all teaching and professional development to teachers’ control, with loose criteria set by us.

After doing a needs assessment on databases, we determine that home growing one is the most efficient way for HTH to go, especially considering that HTH Learning was going to offer it for replication. I draft a design document, begin building a prototype, and procure 10 to 20 hours a week of an internal IT engineer, $3000 for a server, and $2000 for software. We plan for a six-month development and testing cycle before we can hand it over to HTH Learning. Why six months? Because you have to first design an Alpha version, then build a Beta and test it for an entire trimester in the field, and then make a Version 1.0 for distribution. There’s a big lesson here in the need for IT staff time, if you’re going to do databases and other digital tools.

And, of course, placement of students needs to start. The students left turn out to be the hardest to place–some because they simply don’t want to go out, some because they are not ready, and some because they are scared.

Our first data come in, showing us that the students who are not into internships take more time to place than the motivated mature ones. For example:

* A struggling student, Julian, was offered an internship with the CEO of a new community college, but he never sent in his resume or responded to emails. Finally, I had to give him a deadline for submitting his resume or he’d be placed with All Congregations Together (ACT, a nonprofit community transportation company and partner at a charter elementary). Julian was glad for the clarity but he missed the deadline and was placed with ACT, which he said he was happy about.

* Another student, Lance, was in a band and popular and didn’t want to deal with internships. I found him a great position at a small local Web shop and set up an interview, but because he had access to a car, I made the mistake of sending him alone. He forgot the directions, got lost, and didn’t have any phone numbers to call anyone. The organization pulled out of the program, thinking we were flaky, and it took me four months of sweet-talking to get them to participate again. Lance, too, was placed with ACT.

As it turned out, both Julian and Lance went on to be star interns, probably because ACT needs so much help that they treat the students like adults and put them on real projects on their own to sink or swim. This, along with several other difficult situations, taught us two things:

1 You need a wide range of organizations, and at least one that will take tough kids and give them real work.

2. Often, kids who are not doing well in school, or who don’t want to go out, excel on internships. I believe this is because they are free to fail or succeed on their own with less hassling than at school, where nobody is supposed to slip through the cracks.

These experiences also caused us to bring most interviews on campus. While some organizations will come to campus, some will not. Rebecca solved this by asking a friend of hers at Manpower, a global staffing agency, if they would do screening interviews for companies on campus. In exchange, they get the press from the pro-bono work, and even better, our blessing to do site visits at organizations they don’t have contracts with. We make sure interviews with Manpower take place in the public areas where kids can see their friends dressed up and talking to an unknown “suit” with their resume in hand. This does an excellent job of getting students nervous about interviews and resumes, while also having them in the supportive environment of school.

Late in the trimester, the shuttle company ends its donated shuttle time due to the expense. We immediately focus new outreach on downtown area organizations and plan to have me drive one of our vans, which were donated by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, on a downtown loop twice a week for students without cars. This is yet another reason not to give students the choice of which company to go to, because if they don’t have a car, they can’t get where they want to go. But we do make exceptions for students who get their own internships and have cars.

April-July 2002: Third Trimester in the Field

Twenty student interns make it out, and I finish our first major document, the Field Manual, which absorbs the syllabus. A beta of the tracking database is done, and we test it with good success all trimester while still using a paper system as a backup. It is saving time, but the culture of using it everyday is hard to grow.

At this point, the transition to having teachers run professional development also begins. Fourteen students were placed in one class, while six students were in another mixed class with Janie, along with 10 non-interns. This proved to be a disaster–and we learn that students need weekly teacher monitoring and internship-related lessons to stay engaged.

For example: At one organization, we had placed four interns very quickly, resulting in surprised and not bought-in mentors. Two interns got lost in the shuffle and didn’t each have a computer and ended up goofing off a lot. We learned from this that mentors must have warning and buy-in, and students need to be separated and each have a workstation to have the best chance to be productive.

This is also an example of a lesson learned about expectation management. Organizations that have mythological reputations (like Fox-TV, because of their popular shows, or Qualcomm because its founders made HTH possible) can develop expectations in students that no organization could ever meet. When students get to their internship and find that there’s no sound track with movie stars dancing around their cubicle feeding them bonbons, some of them can be disappointed. On the flip side, organizations that sometimes have bad raps, such as nonprofits, often end up pleasantly surprising students.

Some obvious concepts start to emerge as Rebecca and I work together. One is that our internships are about the “workplace, not place”–meaning that students are there to learn in an academic setting about the working world, so it’s not crucial that they get placed exactly in a field they think they want to pursue as a career. And we find that “mentor matching” is more important than the type of business. For example, we avoid putting a computer person with a slick marketing person because they can’t relate to each other. Also, we talk a lot about “it’s the process, not the project”–meaning that the projects can fail, but it’s the process of writing a description, reviewing drafts with a mentor, and presenting to a group that matters.

We also conclude from experience that teachers at HTH do not need to talk directly to mentors in the field. This is due to the different communications environments between work and school. Teachers don’t have cell phones they can answer most of the day, nor do they check their email all day. Also, they can’t leave school and have meetings during the day like we can. When they try to communicate with organizations, it takes too much time and there are too many missed connections, which ruins the communication effort. Because of this, we move more toward acting as the single point of communication for all organizations.

At the end of the trimester, Janie finally comes to us and says she’s bought-in on internships. After a year, she’s seen how she can work them into humanities and the positive effect they have on student performance. She also takes the lead on pushing for classes that have all interns who do the same five assignments, no matter how many internships they’ve been on.

And most important, we start to refer to ourselves as an “internal temp agency” within a high school. This comes about as our limited resources force us to move back to outreach placing and coordinating, but not mentoring or teaching. To this end, we initiate an application form with a fixed deadline that we stick to firmly. We knew this was a success when students were panicking around printers 10 minutes before our deadline, waiting for resumes to print so they could staple them to their applications. More than 65 students applied by the deadline. Several missed the deadline, but we did not falter and told them to apply next time.

We have become intermediaries between the worlds of work and school–or, as our principal puts it, “the fulcrum of the see-saw.”

July-August 2002: Summer Building

Version 1.0 of the database is done and ready for distribution. A Web presence with downloads of documents and student projects is done. The Field Manual is in its second draft.

On August 27, we had our first annual internship kickoff and new mentor orientation night–and it was a success. Manpower sponsored the catering and a live band at the school, and 62 representatives from 35 organizations attended. Gary Jacobs, chairman of HTH’s board of directors, Mel Katz, executive officer of the local Manpower franchise, and two students spoke briefly. Then we stepped back and let the organizations schmooze and eat. They loved it! For one thing, they could all meet each other. Manpower loved the exposure of their company and project with HTH. And we loved it, because we were able to take new mentors aside for a quick orientation and tour of the school in one night.

All intern classes are scheduled, and we’re working closely with teachers so they have buy-in and flexibility, while they also help us maintain the quality and consistent learning structure for all interns. This is challenging but progressing positively.

Thus, our field-tested internship cycle was set to start at full speed on September 3 with 52 students in the field to coordinate, while placing 50 or more for the next trimester, beginning in December. Deep breath … here we go.

Carry On …

It’s been a great ride, and I am convinced that internships are an essential tool for preparing students for college and the information age.

I’ve had to leave out a lot of stories here about students in the field doing absolutely amazing projects, making absolutely amazing mistakes, and absolutely learning lessons they will use their entire lives. But I wanted the focus to be on our lessons learned–and lessons often come by making our own absolutely amazing mistakes.

I’ve watched many students grow up and become more responsible and engaged people who work well with others. That is something I look forward to seeing more of this school year.

My personal core lessons learned are:

1. The most effective internship/mentor relationships look a lot like old-world master/apprentice situations, with one crucial bit of positive evolution added. Modern academic internships do not pigeonhole the apprentice in the profession of the master, but instead use the master to teach the apprentice about the working world in general. This makes sense to me in urban settings in the information age, where a surprising number of kids have never worked before but may have technical skills that rival their master.

2. A good internship program can insinuate a school into the often overlooked local business community, which results in new avenues of support and resources.

3. Academic internship programs are like information technology in terms of resources, especially staffing. Both are new to school budgets and cultures and can be difficult to wrangle adequate funding for successful and sustainable programs.

More information, such as student project examples, the Field Manual, documents, database screen shots, etc., can be seen at http://www.hightechhigh.org. Welcome to our Web presence!

What is high tech high?

The Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs High Tech High Charter School is a bold innovation in public education. Launched in September 2000 by an industry and educator coalition, High Tech High (HTH) occupies a newly designed learning space at the former Naval Training Center in San Diego. A small, diverse learning community with a projected enrollment of 400 students, HTH is founded on three design principles: personalization, adult-world connection, and a common intellectual mission. Innovative features include performance-based assessment, daily shared planning time for staff, state-of-the-art technical facilities for project-based learning, internships for all students, and close links to the high-tech workplace.

The primary goals of HTH are:

* To integrate technical and academic education in a school that prepares students for post-secondary education and for leadership in the high-technology industry.

* To increase the number of educationally disadvantaged students in math and engineering who succeed in high school and post-secondary education and who become productive members and leaders in San Diego’s high-technology industry.

* To provide all HTH students with an extraordinary education, and to graduate students who will be thoughtful, engaged citizens prepared to take on the difficult leadership challenges of the 21st century.

The HTH educational program incorporates the HTH Design Principles:

* Personalization. Each student has a personalized learning plan and an advisor who remains constant throughout the four years at HTH. Students pursue their interests through projects and prepare personal digital portfolios to document their achievements.

* Real-World Immersion. HTH students engage in real-world projects that enable them to learn while working on problems of interest and concern to adults in the community.

All students complete academic internships in local work organizations during the junior and senior years.

Intellectual Mission. Centered on the HTH Habits of Mind, the curriculum is engaging and rigorous, providing the foundation for entry and success at the University of California, California State University, and other post-secondary institutions. Assessment is performance based-students create products, solve problems, and present their work to community panels.

For more information, go to http://www.hightechhigh.org on the Web. Or visit the TECHNOS Web site, where Bob Pearlman’s TQ 11:1 article, “Designing, and Making, the New American High School,” featuring High Tech High, is available: http://www.technos.net/tq_11/1pearlman.htm.

We Learned Our Lessons Well

1. Take ample start-up time before placing students in the field and scale up after you prove you can sustain success.

2. Adopt a “Temp Agency” model within the school.

3. Outreach staff needs to be connected to the local business world.

4. Protect your contacts by being the single point of communication.

5. Design programs around organizations’ convenience.

6. Let teachers teach, mentors mentor, and coordinators coordinate.

7. Initiate professional development courses prior to internships.

8. Establish a consistent foundation of assignments around the process of doing a project.

9. Prioritize mentor matching and teacher buy-in.

10. The specific place is not as important as the lessons about the workplace in general.

11. Do not let students directly pick companies unless they find their own internships.

12. Place students by their personalities, skills, and transportation situations.

13. Foster competition for internships.

14. Manage expectations in students. The sexiest organizations are often not able to meet their expectations. The least sexy nonprofits often provide the most freedom to learn and can offer the best internships.

15. Get or build a tracking database.

16. Classes need to be made up of all interns.

17. Create a shared field manual as the bridge between teachers, students, and mentors.

18. Visit every intern in person and on the job at least once every trimester/semester.

19. Host internship events for organizations to let them schmooze.

20. Do not coddle poorly performing students in the field.

21. Avoid putting student interns in the same room on site.

22. Make sure each student has his or her own workstation.

23. Form alliances with local businesses and business organizations.

24. Use students as your PR department in the school. For example: Tell other students, “Ask David about ACT–he was there.”

25. Have a wide range of organizations involved, including one or two that will take challenging students and give them real work.

–Caleb Clark

Caleb John Clark www.plocktau.com is the academic internship coordinator at High Tech High in San Diego. Prior to that assignment, he was director of a technology lab for the San Diego Padres and adjunct professor at San Diego State University teaching both online and in-person graduate classes in Web design. Mr. Clark started building Web media in 1993, and in early 1996 he co-founded the NoEnd Web Developer’s group in the Bay Area. Past jobs include: freelancer for WIRED Magazine and other publications, professional online host for Netscape (pre-AOL), freelance Web worker and project manager, and dot.com media producer.

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