Creating an Undergraduate IR Intern Program

By Erika M. Farfan, Director of Institutional Research, Kenyon College

Internships-webpage-version2.jpgIf you run into me at the Forum and ask about how things are going in my office my answer is usually, “Really busy! All of our interns are gone for the summer so we’re swamped!” This response usually raises some eyebrows and prompts a cascade of questions about how working with undergraduate interns is feasible.

I initially set up the intern program (with significant support from my supervisor) when the office was a one-person shop to address workload issues. With six interns working ten hours a week, we addressed any work back log long ago and are now creating unique, student-led analysis to support our college’s leadership. Our interns give us insight into the student experience that would be difficult to capture otherwise, they have creative ideas for engaging our student body, and challenge us to be our professional best every day.  

IR internships are also valuable to our students in ways that I hadn’t initially anticipated. Kara Braun, our senior IR Intern, who’s taken over many management responsibilities this year, noted that “The job is extremely adaptable, so we are able to adjust projects based on our individual interest. For me, that has provided the opportunity to learn a lot of new technical skills that are sometimes hard to pick up at a liberal arts school. In addition, I have had many career-building experiences, for example, presenting my research at a board of trustees meeting.” As of September, Kara secured a permanent job she will start upon graduation in May of next year. This extends our record of every one of our interns having a job or graduate school placement at the time of graduation.  

If you’re interested in starting your own undergraduate internship program, here are some things to consider:

  • Think about confidentiality and IT accessibility up front. We have students sign a confidentiality agreement and have a serious talk about their responsibilities as researchers, as well as (in our case) their separate responsibilities as employees and students of the institution. Make decisions about what they will have access to and clearly explain those decisions to them and your IT colleagues who approve access.

  • Hire the best people you can. Especially when you’re starting off, hire the most qualified student that you can, even if they have limited availability or are graduating seniors. These aren’t well known positions on campus, so the interest that their word of mouth will generate among like-minded students will bring in your next awesome interns. 

  • Take hiring risks. With guaranteed turnover you can take hiring risks with interns that might feel like too much of a stretch for a permanent professional staff member. Not sure if economics modeling could benefit your office? Hire an economics major and find out how it works. Would setting up a dedicated liaison to different offices be a good use of resources? Try it out with an intern. The programs can naturally sunset with the intern so there’s no long-term commitment.

  • Trust the interns. We set up a formal half-semester probationary period. If students prove themselves trustworthy and capable (and so far, all of them have) we treat them like colleagues with all of the rights and responsibilities. They have presented to our Trustees, run the hiring for new interns, run meetings with other departments, and independently run research projects. Given trust and freedom, most people will exceed your expectations, and undergraduates are no different.

IR professionals have chosen to use very marketable skills in support of higher education. Having undergraduate interns in our office reminds us of our choice to invest in this field through which we can have an outsized impact on lives of individual students as well as our institutions. 




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Total Comments: 5
Meg posted on 11/16/2017 2:54 PM
Hadn't thought about this as an option. Thanks! This might be better for me, the student, and the institution than just having a work-study student.
Gary posted on 11/16/2017 3:28 PM
We've had 2 interns last year and 2 this year. It is a great way to give students exposure to real research questions and to allow for focused research that smaller offices may not have time to pursue.
Heather posted on 11/17/2017 8:57 AM
This is a great idea, and one that I'd been considering but hadn't taken much action on. Could you (or others) provide some examples of projects that you have assigned to students? I'm assuming basic tasks like survey analyses, enrollment reporting, etc...and wonder if there's any unique or innovative projects that students can do *even better* than staff can? Thanks :)
Tony posted on 11/17/2017 8:59 AM
At Indiana Wesleyan University, we've been doing this since 2006. We call it the AIRCats program and have written papers and done presentations about it. It's been a real blessing for us, being a small (FTE 2) IR shop for a fairly large private institution.
Erika posted on 11/27/2017 8:53 AM
Heather, we've had interns work a variety of projects. Initially, we usually start them off on survey data analysis and updating the factbook. As they get more experience in the office we'll have them write surveys, code open responses, work on strategic planning and logic models, pull and enter data from databases, etc. We try to base the project on each student's interests, so they've really run the gamut. Some require a little more of our time than others but we've found there's almost always a way to make it work.