Using Internships to Promote Student Learning: An Annotated Bibliography

Elizabeth A. Bennion, Professor, Indiana University South Bend

Xander E. Laughlin, Undergraduate Student, Indiana University, Blooming

This essay originally appeared in the Political Science Educator’s Summer 2016 issue.

Internships are a valuable way to further key Political Science learning objectives. Students who participate in internships are required to apply theoretical knowledge in a real world setting, master problem-solving skills in the community or workplace, and gain confidence in the application of critical thinking on issues facing their assigned organization and the world at large. Equally important, internships can help to develop a sense of political efficacy among participants. The annotated bibliography that follows summarizes a decade of articles published in two peer-reviewed political science journals: The Journal of Political Science Education and PS: Political Science & Politics. This list is designed to point instructors, departments, and colleges interested in developing successful, high-impact internships utilizing effective designs tested by other educators in the field.

Allen, Mahalley D., Sally A. Parker, and Teodora C. DeLorenzo. “Civic Engagement in the Community: Undergraduate Clinical Legal Education.” Journal of Political Science Education 8, no. 1 (2012): 35-49.

This article examines the learning outcomes of student participation in an undergraduate legal clinic. Student survey results indicate that a combination of academic work and community service allowed students to acquire new skills in the areas of legal research, legal analysis, legal writing, and client interviewing. Meanwhile, low-income community members benefited from access to free legal services. Impressed with the results, the authors suggest how other institutions might set up their own undergraduate legal clinics.

Anderson, Brian. “High-Impact Political Science Internships in a “Low-Density Opportunity” Environment.” PS: Political Science & Politics 47, no. 04 (2014): 862-866.

The author of this article argues that even students who attend colleges located outside of capital cities can reap the benefits of high-impact internships. Students placed in small-city government agencies gain valuable knowledge if they are asked to reflect on their experiences and recommend improvements to enhance organizational effectiveness. Students engaging in such reflective practices become better acquainted with the mechanics of government and think more critically about how such institutions can best achieve their missions. Thus, even “low-density opportunity” environments provide invaluable opportunities for high impact internships.

Blount, Alma G. “Critical reflection for public life: How reflective practice helps students become politically engaged.” Journal of Political Science Education 2, no. 3 (2006): 271-283.

This article provides an analytic framework for critical reflection designed to support political engagement and leadership development. The author promotes reflective practice that links writing assignments to specific experiences and academic study in ways that help students to understand complex social systems, contextualize difficult political issues, strengthen

This essay is part of the Political Science Educator: Editor’s Reading List

their understanding of their personal role democracy, and develop a sense of personal agency. The article provides an example of how community-based internships, when combined with critical reflection, lead to growth in personal, interpersonal, and public leadership skills.

Curtis, Steven, and Alasdair Blair. “Experiencing politics in action: Widening participation in placement learning and politics as a vocation.” Journal of Political Science Education 6, no. 4 (2010): 369-390.

This article promotes socially inclusive short, research-based local placements that are open to all students, including those with family commitments and part-time jobs. Such placements, when embedded in the Political Science curriculum, enriched students’ understanding of politics by complementing and reinforcing their studies on campus. Participants also reported a greater appreciation of political actors and processes, along with an increased sense of personal efficacy and interest in a range of possible political careers.

Doherty, Leanne. “Filling the Female Political Pipeline: Assessing a Mentor-Based Internship Program.” Journal of Political Science Education 7, no. 1 (2011): 34-47.

This article assesses the effectiveness of an internship program matching young women with female state legislators in an attempt to increase the number of women in the political pipeline. Interviews and quantitative assessment of program alumni demonstrate that the mentor-based internship program made participants more likely to see themselves as potential political players, both at the state and national level. An analysis of recent participants’ post-graduation job and graduate school choices indicate that they have continued on the pathway to political office.

Jones, David A. “The polarizing effect of a partisan workplace.” PS: Political Science & Politics 46, no. 01 (2013): 67-73.

Group polarization theory suggests that partisan environments, in which coworkers rarely encounter alternative viewpoints, push individuals to the partisan and ideological extremes. This study tests this hypothesis by comparing opinion change among interns who worked in a partisan workplace with that of interns who were employed in less-partisan environments. The author concludes that partisan workplace environments foster opinion polarization, especially among Republicans. These finding have interesting implications for Political Science departments as they place their students into partisan internship environments.

Lowenthal, Diane J., and Jeffrey K. Sosland. “Making the grade: How a semester in Washington may influence future academic performance.” Journal of Political Science Education 3, no. 2 (2007): 143-160.

A semester in Washington comprised of classwork and an internship has clear benefits for students. Comparing students who participated in the program to students with similar GPAs who did not participate, the authors found that program participation had a positive impact on subsequent academic performance, especially for females and government majors. Other results included improved writing skills and greater involvement in service-learning and campus and community activities. Participant focus groups emphasized a strengthened focus on their majors, more defined career plans, an increased likelihood of attending graduate school, and excellent professional network opportunities as well as other program benefits.

Mariani, Mack, and Philip Klinkner. “The Effect of a Campaign Internship on Political Efficacy and Trust.” Journal of Political Science Education 5, no. 4 (2009): 275-293.

This research utilizes a pre-test, post-test design to compare an experimental group, whose members participated in a 10-week internship course, with a control group, whose members did not participate. The authors find that internships increase internal efficacy and trust in government. The authors consider the role of self-selection in producing a statistically insignificant decrease in external efficacy among internship participants. Ultimately, the authors conclude that internships can change the way young people view political institutions and their role in the political system.

Pecorella, Robert F. “Forests and Trees: The Role of Academics in Legislative Internships.” Journal of Political Science Education 3, no. 1 (2007): 79-99.

While experiential learning is recognized by academics as an invaluable tool for students to contextualize theoretical knowledge, without proper monitoring and academic grounding, interns can become office “gophers” who learn very little. To ensure that internships will be useful learning experiences for students and productive for employers, the author proposes two rules: 1) students must be monitored before, during, and immediately after the internships, and 2) students experiences must be grounded in an academic context. The “coterminous academic component” of an internship provides the theoretical “forests” for the empirical “trees” of experience.

The above literature highlights several key lessons about creating high impact internships in Political Science. Sending students to Washington DC or placing them in local government agencies can be effective when student fieldwork is combined with both academic work and structured critical reflections. Both long-term and short-term placements can be effective, if objectives are clear and students are appropriately monitored before, during, and after the internship experience. Knowledge, skills, and dispositions can all be positively influenced by a high impact internship experience. Interns can be placed in off-campus locations or in campus-based clinics designed to engage students in community-based research and service. Adding a mentoring component to the internship experience can enhance learning outcomes and help students to chart a path toward a career in politics. Regardless of the placement, both students and site supervisors need to understand the student learning objectives and supervisor work expectations involved. Meanwhile, academic supervisors must help students to connect theory and practice in ways that promote active learning and long-term political engagement.

Political Science Educator: Editor’s Reading List presents select PSE articles from the previous 15 years. APSA Educate is please to announce it will feature all future Political Science Educator‘s issues.


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