Internships that Work: The Reciprocity Principle

By Corey Scott, Experiential Learning Projects Coordinator, Career Services

Brad Murphy, Manager, Education and Collaboration Technologies, at Queen's University ITS, decided to hire an intern in the spring of 2016. Mr. Murphy has brought on student employees through the Summer Work Experience Program (SWEP) in the past, but this time he wanted a longer-term placement to help with an upcoming priority project.

In February 2014, the Provost’s Task Force on the Student Learning Experience, published the ‘Teaching and Learning Action Plan’.  One of the recommendations that emerged from this report was to “develop university-wide support for eLearning”, including “a single portal for all online courses and programs across the university”. In order to implement this solution, Queen’s University selected a new learning management system (LMS) called Brightspace to replace the Moodle platform. As they worked with the vendor to customize the product (now referred to as onQ) for the University’s needs, it became clear that they would need someone to help with project implementation.

Jacey Carnegie, standing up against a wall

Mr. Murphy turned to the Queen’s Undergraduate Internship Program (QUIP) for help finding the right student employee.  “It was very important to our team that we hire a student because the project was about improving the student learning experience”, said Mr. Murphy. “What better way to do that then to get the perspective of a student!”

Enter Jacey Carnegie, now in the fourth year of a psychology degree.  To say Ms. Carnegie has a diverse skillset is a bit of an understatement, as she is also enrolled in the Business Certificate program offered by the Smith School of Business, and is considering taking the Queen’s Master of Science in Occupational Therapy upon the completion of her undergraduate degree.

As the ‘onQ Transition Lead’,  with the ITS department, Ms. Carnegie’s primary responsibility is to assist faculty and staff through a significant change management process. According to Ms. Carnegie, her psychology program taught her a lot about how people learn, and how to implement the most effective teaching methods to help individuals and teams adjust to the new LMS.

Mr. Murphy approached the task of hiring and mentoring an intern with a clear philosophy: “I wanted to help a student by providing a strong and challenging learning environment where the student could gain professional skills, and at the same time find an individual who could meet the demands of the project”.  In other words, Mr. Murphy was targeting a reciprocal relationship in which “the student’s learning goals aligned with the department’s needs”.

As it turned out, reciprocal benefit is exactly what Mr. Murphy and Ms. Carnegie received from the mentee-mentor relationship.  According to Ms. Carnegie, the internship has positively impacted her academic performance and her future career aspirations: “I gained a lot of experience improving my writing and verbal communication skills that I think will provide an advantage for many of the assessments I will face in the final year of my degree. I've also honed my organization and time management skills. In the summer months, I had the opportunity to manage a team of 3 students, in addition to a team of 3 students during the Fall term. This experience alone has given me an invaluable number of transferable skills”. 

According to Mr. Murphy, “Jacey had a huge impact on the project; she outshined our expectations and was a tremendous addition to the team”.

Brad Murphy expects to hire Queen’s interns again in the future through the QUIP program.  He  commented on his appreciation of the QUIP program format, which offers 12-16 month internships, and from his perspective, allows students to see a project through from start to finish. When asked if anything surprised him about the internship experience Mr. Murphy replied: “I honed my own managerial skills in the process. An intern demands a different level of attention than more experienced staff. You want them to succeed, and you want to make sure they have the support they need to excel.  It made me revisit how I approached coaching and mentoring. This was a really unexpected bonus from the experience”.

As Mr. Murphy and Ms. Carnegie experienced, when the goals of student learning are aligned with an employer’s needs, reciprocal benefits are likely to follow.