Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
The University of Connecticut (UConn) offers 75 internship courses that allow students the opportunity to earn academic credit for internship experiences. However, a number of these courses—which are offered by academic departments from all schools and colleges at the university—have prerequisites and, thus, are not available to many underclassmen. To account for this gap, UConn’s Center for Career Development (CCD) created zero-credit and one-credit courses that offer an additional option for all students.
“The overarching goal of the program is to provide all undergraduate students a method of notating their internship experience or earning academic credit for it, and the [program’s] goals are certainly being met, as students enroll in the courses each semester,” says Ana Clara Blesso, assistant director, experiential learning in UConn’s CCD.
“The courses have no prerequisites and no class year restrictions, showcasing that experiential learning can be valuable for all students, in all academic programs or all class years.”
Interested students reach out to the CCD prior to the add/drop deadline for a semester in which they will be interning. The courses are available during UConn’s spring, fall, and summer sessions. The internship is then vetted for quality by a member of the CCD team, who looks for:
- No more than 25 percent of an intern’s time spent on administrative tasks;
- Quality mentoring and supervision;
- The learning opportunities that will be available to the student;
- The projects the intern will be working on to support the team;
- The logistics of the experience (where it is located, how many hours per week the student is working, whether the experience is paid or unpaid, and more).
“Once an internship is approved,” Blesso notes, “a student can enroll in the course of his or her choosing—the zero-credit or one-credit option. The zero-credit option is ideal for students who wish to have an internship featured on their academic transcript, but neither need nor want the additional academic credit.”
The one-credit course costs the normal university tuition rate, and there’s a charge of $45 for the zero-credit course.
Another goal of the program is for students to have reflective experiences. As part of this program, students are tasked with sharing their concluding thoughts on the internship and the course by submitting a final reflection paper at the end of each experience.
“These papers consistently show that students are thoughtfully engaging with their supervisors, articulating the deeper meaning of their experiences, and are able to successfully reflect on the skillset they have developed through the semester,” Blesso points out.
She says that hundreds of students have benefited from this program since its inception more than a decade ago. Students have interned at a variety of locations. For example, over the last year, internship locations have included the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators, Travelers, Deloitte, Kleinfeld Bridal, the ACLU of Connecticut, the New England Sports Network, and the Connecticut Department of Children & Families.
Blesso acknowledges that there are challenges associated with this program. From vetting experiences to carefully grading students’ assignments, engagement in this course requires a good deal of time and efforts from CCD staff members.
“Additionally,” she adds, “the zero-credit course remains a new concept at the university and for employers, meaning that many do not see it as a viable option when mandating that students earn internship credit. Now that zero-credit internship courses can be offered by the university, it is also essential that they not be seen as prerequisites for additional academic engagements.”
She adds that the initiative is very fortunate to have a group formulated by the Provost’s Office that sees the CCD’s zero-credit course as a best practice.
“We are collaborating with that team to ensure that all university policies adhere to such practices, and to support any additional departments that hope to implement similar courses as well,” Blesso adds.
For other career centers considering launching a similar program of zero-credit and one-credit internship courses, Blesso recommends:
- Building in strong online components, especially over a summer session, as students may be interning throughout the country;
- Engaging with academic advisers to help promote such courses as options to students, particularly during the summer sessions;
- Using quality reading and materials—including articles, texts, and lectures—that speak to both the challenges and victories students may be experiencing at the internship sites;
- Carefully vetting all experiences for quality, as deemed by the individual institution; and
- Developing a syllabus with professional development assignments that are beneficial for all students, in all academic programs, that includes informational interviews, resume-writing assignments, and cover-letter critiques.