Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
For several years, the Mississippi State University (MSU) career center has incorporated college/university accreditation standards into its co-op and intern employment evaluations.
The effort to do so came out of discussions the career center had with deans and department heads who looked to the career center for help as they were collecting data for their individual college accreditation reports. Also about that time, several accrediting agencies started to identify ways to collect secondary outside evaluations of student performance.
"For us, co-ops and internships were logical sources for this," explains Scott Maynard, director of the MSU career center. "We took the accreditation standards pertaining to student knowledge and built them into the evaluation. Employers provide a secondary source evaluating the problem-solving knowledge and theory learned in the classroom, and assessing whether the competencies are being applied in the work environment."
Most of these are tied to competencies within the field and serve multiple roles. Maynard explains that students can get a feel for not only how their employer views their competency in a particular area, but also of what competencies are important. Meanwhile, in addition to the student's learning objectives, supervisors receive a secondary guide highlighting the competencies in the field the student needs to be exposed to.
"The school also gets an outside evaluation of the student's performance at the sophomore and junior level to get an early snapshot of how well they are prepared," he adds.
The MSU career center conducts evaluations for both co-ops and interns at the end of each semester. The survey addresses basic competencies, such as communication skills, work ethic, presentation skills, problem solving, and others, and looks at topics like the student's ability to:
- Function on multidisciplinary teams
- Apply knowledge of engineering to solve problems.
- Design, conduct, and analyze experiments.
It may also ask, for example, if the student understands how the following effects the design of a system, component, or process:
- Economic constraints
- Environmental constraints
- Social constraints
- Political constraints
- Ethical constraints
- Health and safety constraints
"Our system lets us customize the survey by major, so if a department or college has a special area of interest or concern, it can address this area directly," Maynard says. "As of today, there are 67 questions to draw from in the pool; approximately half of those are particular to a specific college or major."
MSU co-op or intern liaisons follow up with students when they're back on campus to review their evaluations and, if there are any red flags, the liaison will review them with students and suggest steps to take and resources to use to strengthen these areas.
"We also provide longitudinal data for all deans, department heads, and faculty to analyze and identify trends within their majors," Maynard notes. "Then, for instance, if a department sees that its students are struggling with applying a particular skill or competency they can adjust their curriculum or individual classes and identify projects or assignments that address these needs."
Since implementing the standards in the intern/co-op evaluations, Maynard has seen changes to the way students and supervisors approach their assignments, as they are more aware of the goals of the co-op or internship.
"I think the seasoned supervisors are doing a better job of putting students into positions to evaluate their skills or test their knowledge in certain areas, or challenge them in certain ways," Maynard says. "That's been beneficial as we've put more emphasis on the evaluations. The employers understand the goals of the work experience and prepare the students with projects on which they can be evaluated."
For career services offices trying to capture competencies data through intern/co-op evaluations, he recommends meeting with individual deans and department heads to determine what standards they are trying to capture.
"This helps the career center build another bridge to those departments and colleges while providing data that is useful at every level of administration," Maynard says. "It provides another area for the career center to create value across campus."