The primary purpose of the MPA internship is to provide students with meaningful experiences in applying what they have learned through classes in real-world settings. It also provides support and assistance to organizations and agencies in their efforts to address community needs. Student interns are expected to engage in professional tasks and projects in areas such as the development, planning, implementation, and analysis/evaluation of policy, finance, management, supervision, strategy, program, and other administrative tasks. The internship and capstone experiences often help students make important career choices by determining the administrative functions and areas in which they are most interested. Through the internship, students often make important discoveries and professional connections. This excellent opportunity to network may be very helpful when preparing to enter the job market.
Students must spend at least 300 hours in their internship placement. This is often spread over approximately 15 weeks (20 hours per week) and may be completed during fall, spring or summer semesters. The completed MPA internship course (PAFF 594) earns two-credits and is graded on a pass/fail basis.
Since students are responsible for identifying their own internship placement, preparing for and arranging an internship requires planning, time, and attention over a period of at least a semester. An Internship Checklist has been developed to guide students throughout the process, available on page 5 of the handbook.
Because the MPA is a professional degree, the faculty has a responsibility to future employers of our graduates and the communities in which those graduates will serve to ensure that students have essential competencies and demonstrate a high level of professionalism. To that end, every student will receive an assessment of their competencies midway through each academic semester; this assessment is in addition to feedback and grades received by students during individual courses. This mid-semester assessment will include input from all faculty and staff. Students are required to discuss concerns identified in the assessments with their advisor to develop a professional development plan to address the issues identified.
Beyond completion of the required courses and credit hours, eligibility for internship placement and registration for the capstone course is contingent upon the student receiving satisfactory assessments and MPA program authorization to proceed to the internship and capstone.
An internship in a public or nonprofit organization provides the student with an opportunity to apply knowledge and skills from their courses to a work setting. It is also a way for the program to demonstrate to professional public service organizations the contributions that MPA students can make to their organizations. Student performance in an internship is a direct reflection on the program. As such, the program has a responsibility to ensure that students have demonstrated not only the acquisition of knowledge and skills, but also a level of professionalism, maturity and reliability expected of an MPA student. Additionally, based on a student’s selection of courses and performance within those individual courses, some types of internship placements may be more suitable than others. The assessment is designed to provide both the MPA Internship Coordinator and the student with information on whether the student has demonstrated necessary levels of competence for an internship placement, if there are particular types of internships that would be appropriate for the student, or if there are particular competencies that need to be demonstrated before an internship placement can be authorized.
Prior to beginning the internship, students must successfully complete PAFF-510, PAFF-520, PAFF-521, and at least 18 credit hours in the program as well as receive satisfactory evaluations from the MPA faculty. Students pursuing a department specialization are generally expected to complete an internship in the appropriate sector (nonprofit or local government). It is also expected that the student will have taken the courses necessary for the successful completion of the internship.
When a student has accepted an offer for an internship, several steps must be take prior to beginning the internship experience: 1) Develop the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Site Supervisor; 2) When the MOU is complete, email it to Joann Lindstrom, Internship Coordinator for approval before obtaining any signatures; 3) When departmental approval is given, have the site supervisor sign the MOU and make an appointment with the Internship Coordinator to sign and file the MOU.
Students are not able to directly register themselves in the MPA internship course, PAFF 594. Only after completion of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and approval by the Site Supervisor and the Internship Coordinator, can the student request the Internship Coordinator register him/her in the course. It is recommended that the site selection and MOU development process begin early enough in the previous semester so that the student can initiate the internship as planned. Necessary components of an MOU are listed beginning on page 6 of the handbook.
Students are encouraged to select internship sites that are within their area of concentration or interest in a government or nonprofit setting. In-service students employed in public agencies or nonprofit organizations may conduct their internship at their place of employment under the supervision of a higher level administrator or manager.
Selecting an internship site is one of the most important decisions a student makes and should be undertaken with great consideration and care. After the general informational session held each semester, the Internship Coordinator is available to meet with each student individually to discuss and narrow down site options. Students will regularly receive numerous internship announcements and other opportunities via the MPA listserv.
The student is responsible for contacting prospective sites, submitting applications, and scheduling interviews. This will require a well-written, updated résumé, as well as a compelling letter. Some basic guidelines in the creation of résumés and letters can be found at the University’s Career Development Center’s website (http://www2.binghamton.edu/career-development-center).
Expectations of Students
As a graduate student who has completed two semesters of MPA coursework, the duties of the student during the internship must exceed those typically assigned to undergraduate level interns. The student must have administrative responsibilities throughout his or her internship in order to receive credit. Examples of administrative responsibilities include program evaluation, program development, policy analysis, financial analysis, research, and strategic planning.
When preparing to interview for a potential internship opportunity, think of it as a formal job interview. Dress conservatively and consider removing additional piercings. Binghamton University's Career Development Center has written a guide to help you prepare (http://www2.binghamton.edu/career-development-center/quick-reference-guides/etiquette.pdf).
The student intern should have little or no office support/secretarial duties and may not provide direct services to clients. In addition to being involved in administrative processes, the student should be included in organizational meetings and other general events in order to maximize the overall learning experience.
The intern must complete the capstone project after the conclusion of their internship. During this project, the student will address an organizational problem identified in cooperation with the supervisor during the internship period. If there is a transition period of one semester or more between the time of the internship completion date and the student's enrollment in the capstone seminar, the student is expected to maintain contact with the site supervisor.
Assessment of Internship Experience
The intern will be expected to evaluate his/her experience at the end of the internship by writing a 3-4 page memorandum (single-spaced) that summarizes his/her internship activities and provides reflections on its relevance to his/her MPA coursework. It should describe how s/he has demonstrated the professional and core competencies expected of MPA students, such as communication and application of analytical skills to solve problems outlined on the final intern evaluation form. In particular, the intern should explain how s/he was able to integrate public administration theory and knowledge into practice through the internship experience, illustrating with specific examples. Insights gained and areas of new learning, challenges and how they were addressed, and the “fit” of the internship with the intern’s interests and anticipated career direction should also be incorporated. Also included should be how the internship has led to the development of the intern’s capstone project topic and touch upon possible capstone project ideas.
The Site Supervisor will also evaluate the intern. The final intern evaluation form is provided beginning on page 10 of the handbook. Both the final intern evaluation form and the memorandum written by the intern must be completed and submitted by the end of the semester in order to receive a grade (either “Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory”) for the internship.
Students who have significant professional administrative, supervisory, and/or management experience may request a waiver of the required MPA internship. This applies to those with at least three years of experience as an executive director, top level manager, or similar administrative position. To apply, the student must submit a formal request to the Internship Coordinator explaining the length and administrative functions associated with relevant experiences, a rationale for waiving the internship requirement, and a copy of a current résumé. Since the capstone project is still required, the student should have organizational approval for the capstone project site prior to requesting a waiver. The MPA program reserves the right to deny the request and require an internship experience.
MPA students who are currently working in public or nonprofit administrative positions, but who do not have sufficient professional experience to qualify for an internship waiver, have an option to complete their internship at their place of work. These students will register for the internship course, complete a MOU, and proceed with the process as described above.
International students with F-1 Visas are required to fill out the “Curriculum Practical Training” (CPT) form prior to beginning an internship. These forms are available from the Office of International Programs and must be approved by the student’s academic advisor. Failure to complete this form will result in the loss the F-1 immigration status. Students with J-1 Visas should consult with the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) prior to drafting an MOU.