Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
Throughout their internships, Indiana Wesleyan University students are required to create video answers to questions about their experiences that are posed by the career development office. The exercise has several beneficial results, including interns participating in self-reflection and creating a community of students who share their insights, and career development office personnel being able to check in on the interns.
“I feel like I get to know the students better through their responses and it allows us to develop a relationship of trust,” says Nathan Milner, Indiana Wesleyan University’s internship coordinator.
“They know that they can come to me with questions during their internship or beyond their internship if they have unrelated career questions that come up.”
Milner typically asks five sets of questions throughout the course of an internship using Flipgrid, a free online video discussion platform designed for the education community. Students create short videos of their responses and post them for the entire group to view.
This exercise requires interns to think about how they’re learning during their internships and helps them better track how they are being changed by the experience, Milner says.
“They have the opportunity to hear responses from other interns, so even if they haven’t experienced something yet at their internship, they might learn something from a peer who has had a different experience,” he says.
“Talking about their internship experiences on a regular basis reminds them that this is not just a job, it is an extension of what they are learning in the classroom, even if they aren’t taking the internship for credit.”
Furthermore, interns learn to integrate their internship experience into their careers, Milner says. They learn to talk about what they are learning in a way they might talk about that experience in an interview with a future employer.
“It creates a community among the interns that they might not have otherwise,” he adds. “They are able to share wins with their peers, talk about what they are learning, or share when something has been difficult. Doing an internship can feel isolating from one’s peers. The video feedback gives interns a sense of camaraderie and a feeling that the other interns understand the experience each member of the group is going through and they are not alone in those feelings, good or bad.”
On the other side, the videos allow Milner to stay current on each intern’s experience, and offer encouragement or initiate a follow-up conversation if a response warrants further discussion.
“I get a sense for what kind of experience an intern is having at each particular business and with their supervisors,” he explains.
“This helps me know what kind of places we are sending our students to and make a better judgment on what kinds of students would thrive in that environment or if there are students who would be better off avoiding that kind of culture.”
It also helps Milner focus on their learning through their internship while helping them think critically about their experiences.
The questions Milner asks throughout an internship typically cover the following areas:
- Introductions—Milner asks interns to introduce themselves and share where they are doing their internship. Then, he asks interns about their first impressions of their internship and what they are most excited for during their internship.
- Leadership—Midway through the internship period, Milner asks interns to imagine that they are now in charge at their internship site. He asks what things they would change, what things they would keep the same, and how they would lead the organization.
- Projects—Milner asks interns about the current projects they are working on, and what they are learning through them. He also asks about their favorite projects so far and how they have been able to integrate what they are learning in the classroom with what they are learning during their internship.
- Self-reflection—To spark interns to reflect on their personal experience, Milner asks about how they are doing in their internship, what they have learned about themselves, and what they are going to try to improve on for the second half of the semester. Other areas he addresses is what the interns are learning about their strengths and weaknesses as an employee, how they manage their weaknesses, what they have learned about being a professional in the workplace, and how what they have learned has changed the way they work.
- Values—Milner points out that organizations typically have values that, even if not talked about regularly, can start to become evident over time. With this in mind, he asks interns to think about their organizations’ values and discuss what they have observed.
- Career management—Milner asks interns how this experience has prepared them for a future career and the key takeaways from their internship they will take with them going forward. Interns are encouraged to share information about anything at their internship that they didn't understand at first or something that has had a steep learning curve and they had to play catch-up. Milner asks how supervisors have engaged the interns to get them where they need to be, and how the interns have adjusted to fix a mistake or changed course to meet their supervisor’s expectations. Now that they are nearing the end of their internship, they are also asked where they go from here, and what they will take from their internship back into the classroom or to their future career, or apply to daily life.
“Students are pretty open about responding via video,” Milner points out.
“I’ve never had a student push back that [he or she] didn’t want to participate or ask for an alternative feedback method. As a moderator, I have the option of typing in a question for students to respond. However, I choose to both type and record a video prompt for the students. I don’t want to ask the interns to record a video without demonstrating that I will put myself out there and record my questions as a video prompt.”
Doing so, he notes, allows interns to see how he engages and feels comfortable responding in video form.
Milner says it is rewarding to see evidence of the NACE competencies in the responses students provide.
“I haven’t intentionally set out to check off all eight career competencies with interns by asking them to reflect or demonstrate each one to me,” he explains.
“However, I have been able to observe them in action as I watch the videos that interns submit. As I listen to them talk and process their internship, I can see ways that they’ve had to use critical thinking to overcome a problem at work or how they have learned to be more professional by managing their time better.”
For example, when asked what surprises the interns had experienced at their internship sites, one student shared that her internship wasn’t turning out to be what she had envisioned. She felt that maybe she hadn’t communicated with her supervisor up front about what she was hoping to gain from her experience.
“In the video, the intern shared that she was planning to approach her supervisor with ideas of how she could better incorporate her career goals into her work,” Milner recalls.
“Though I didn’t intend for the question to hit on the NACE critical thinking/problem solving competency, the intern’s response proved to me that she was doing just that.”
After each semester, the career development office hosts a banquet for its interns and employers to celebrate the work they’ve accomplished. Awards are given to an Outstanding Intern and an Outstanding Employer.
“Sometime during the event, a video compilation is shown which highlights some responses made by interns about a question that was posed to them during the semester,” Milner says.
Indiana Wesleyan University uses the videos to promote its internship program. With the permission of the students, the career development office uses quotes from the students for marketing internships to other students. It also uses quotes from students to show faculty, administrators, alumni, parents, and others the kinds of things students are learning in their internships and how valuable these experiences are in enhancing their classroom learning.
Milner and Tiffany Snyder, Indiana Wesleyan University’s director of career development, have several suggestions for colleges and universities looking to implement a similar program to remain connected to and check in with interns, and to help them to share their experiences with each other:
- Make interns aware of the videos from the start—When onboarding students into the internship program, share past videos, and explain why the videos are used and how they impact the experience.
- Be an active participant—The internship coordinator should provide real-time feedback, and affirm and expound on ideas in a timely fashion. Especially in cases when face-to-face interaction with interns is limited, this can be a great way to stay connected without much time commitment on the part of the intern. Enabling interns to comment and interact with their peers creates a meaningful, mutual learning exercise.
- Let competencies serve as the foundation—Use career competencies for both questions and assessments.
- Keep it casual—Don’t put a lot of pressure on students to make quality videos or even dress professionally. Focus more on helping them create a comfortable experience in which they can provide honest, thoughtful feedback without worrying about extrinsic factors.
- Have control—Have students sign a digital media release at the beginning of their internship. Moderate discussions so that the videos can be approved before they are posted.
- Ensure students are comfortable with providing insight—Make students aware that that their responses will not be shared with their employers so they can be honest about the good and the bad of their experiences. If using the videos for other purposes, make sure the students know that only positive clips will be selected.
“Because I can't be at everyone's internship site and check in as regularly as I would like, this is a great way for me to keep a pulse on what is going on,” Milner says.
“The responses I get are often very thoughtful and provide excellent proof that what they are learning outside the classroom is of enormous benefit to their career and professional development.”