University interns can yield benefits

Susan M. Katz
Susan M. Katz

Susan M. Katz

Almost everyone is familiar with the concept of internships for college students, but many think only of a model that involves large corporations paying students from computer science or engineering for a stint of three to six-months.

You may not have considered that your organization could benefit from an intern while helping a young person explore the possibility of a career in the nonprofit sector.

By hosting an intern, you could:

  • Gain help with short-term projects, such as preparing for major fundraising events or other seasonal activities.
  • Assist overworked staff with tasks that are lower-priority but worthwhile.
  • Get coverage for staff during vacation-filled summer months.
  • Bring in fresh, young ideas and social-media skills.

Depending on the student’s major, he or she can contribute in many ways.

Interns in the program I coordinate in the Department of English at North Carolina State University, for example, have been of service by:

  • Drafting articles for a newsletter or website.
  • Compiling research on comparable organizations in other areas, or identifying grant opportunities.
  • Assisting with writing reports or proposals.
  • Creating directories, handbooks, procedures or training materials.
  • Producing public-service announcements, press releases, flyers, brochures, invitations, solicitations and thank-you letters.
  • Conducting tours.
  • Creating or enhancing an organization’s presence on the Internet with blogs, twitter feeds or Facebook updates.
  • Redesigning or maintaining organizational websites.

Nonprofits are exempt from most state and federal laws that dictate the type of work that student interns can do and the type of compensation they must receive — either actual pay or academic credit.

However, student interns should be treated with respect and asked to do work comparable to that of an entry-level professional.

Some students may be able to use an internship to earn academic credit, and the student’s department or academic program will dictate those requirements.

The internship program in my department, for example, requires that students complete an application process, meet specific GPA minimums, work at the organization for 120 hours over the course of the semester, and participate in a three-credit-hour class that meets once a week.

Employers are required to sign an agreement form outlining the basic duties of the student intern and complete both a mid-term and final evaluation of the student’s performance. Other universities and other programs will have different requirements.

If you are interested in hosting an intern, your first step would be to draft a brief job description outlining the work you would like the intern to do.

Then contact the career or counseling center of a nearby college or university to learn how to connect with the most appropriate students.

To get information about specific programs, you can search for “internships” on the college or university website.

If you have a good idea of what type of skills your intern would need, you can also search for internships that are available to students in a specific department or major.

Susan M. Katz is associate professor and internship coordinator in the Department of English at North Carolina State University.

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