Formalizing Internship Experiences for Wildlife and Fisheries Undergraduates at Mississippi State University
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AbstractOur department recognizes internships as a form of experiential learning that helps students integrate knowledge and practice, build professional networks and clarify career goals. We have pursued formal internship agreements with state and federal agencies (e.g., Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USDA APHIS Wildlife Services, Weyerhaeuser Company) to benefit our students and help agencies build pools of prospective employees. Students in our curriculum may earn up to 3 credit hours for internship as a professional elective, but it is not currently required. As a faculty, we have debated what types of professional experience qualify as a true internship (e.g., paid vs. non-paid, agency vs. university, etc.). We currently approve a broad range of professional experiences as internships following criteria established by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. To receive internship credit, the opportunity must not “simply be work that a regular employee would routinely perform,” and there must be “clearly defined learning objectives” or professional development activities that are approved by the internship coordinator. Assessment of internees indicates that students feel they learn about agencies, increase their technical knowledge and increase their employability. Three of 7 internees last year received job offers directly out of the internship experience. Still, internees perceive technical expertise as the greatest benefit from internships. We will discuss plans to change this perception which include increasing formal internship agreements, changing student perceptions, better promoting internships to undergraduate students and soliciting input from employers regarding necessary skills our graduates need.