The Informational Interview is an activity that students undertake concurrently with or parallel to their engagement in our Academic Internship Program. This program is a full academic semester in which they undertake a substantial professional internship, as well as engage in academic coursework and professional development programming. The write-up of the interview becomes an artifact in the portfolio of work students assemble over the course of the semester. By exploring the career path of a professional working in a field of interest, this assignment aims to encourage students to reflect on their own potential career paths. In this way, it aims to support outcomes of Integrative Learning as framed by the Integrative Learning VALUE Rubric.
Background and Context
This assignment prompts students to inquire into the career path of a professional already working in a field of interest. The aim of the assignment is to encourage students to reflect on their own potential career paths as a part of their own growth and development over the course of a semester in which they engaged in an internship.
Specifically, this assignment arises from The Washington Center’s Academic Internship Program, which we often describe as an academic semester built around an internship. The internship is full time, Monday through Thursday for 15 weeks in the fall and spring and nine weeks in the summer. In addition, students also enroll in one traditional academic course, which is usually an upper-level elective and may or may not be within the field of the student’s major. Finally, students all engage in the LEAD Colloquium—a series of professional development workshops, professional arena explorations, and civic engagement activities.
Student Profile. The Washington Center serves approximately 1,200 students annually in the Academic Internship Program in Washington, D.C. All of these students complete this capstone reflection and interview assignment. The following profile reflects our most recent demographics.
- Our students come from approximately 400 partner universities around the country and 20+ countries around the world.
- Approximately 47% of our students are seniors in college, 40% are juniors, and 7% are sophomores.
- Our students come from diverse academic majors; the largest representations are from political science (20%), International Affairs (10%), Business and Accounting (10%), Criminal Justice (8%), and Journalism or Communications (7%)
- Students intern in a wide variety of professional organizations around Washington, D.C., including Congressional and administrative offices, local government agencies, nonprofit organizations and private and for-profit organizations from law firms to media organizations.
Learning Outcomes. Internships are usually highly unscripted experiences in which the learning is often emergent. What is more, the range of learning outcomes students can achieve through internships is quite broad. Because of this, it is useful to think of internships as informing learning pathways that might cut across multiple domains of the DQP (Grose, 2017). The Informational Interview Assignment is intended to help students explore the idea of a pathway, particularly as it relates to career development. This, in turn, can help students to reflect on their own experiences in their internships and the meaning it might hold for their futures.
Because internships are work-based experiences, an important area of student learning will be in the DQP domain of Applied and Collaborative Learning. The Informational Interview assignment, in part, prompts students to explore the experience of a mid-career professional working in a particular field, including how academic training might prepare one for work in that field and the leadership styles that allow one to work successfully in the field.
- Applied and Collaborative Learning. This domain of the DQP focuses on “the interaction of academic and non-academic settings and the corresponding integration of theory and practice.”
Additionally, depending upon the nature of the internship and the field of the interviewee in this assignment, the Informational Interview will likely also help students explore the significance of proficiencies developed in other domains of the DQP.
- Specialized Knowledge. Some internships explore the professional applications of the specialized skills and knowledge gained in the major with the goal of transferring that learning into the launch of a career.
- “Defines and explains the structure, styles and practices of the field of study using its tools, technologies, methods and specialized terms.”
- Intellectual Skills. Other internships explore professionalism in general apart from any vocational application of specialized knowledge. Learning to function in a professional workplace, then, explores the transfer of intellectual skills on campus to the workplace. The six intellectual skills in this domain of the DQP are described as “crosscutting” “proficiencies that transcend the boundaries of particular fields of study.” In the context of work, they inform all-purpose skills that are often described as the “soft skills” that are essential for functioning in today’s economy.
- Civic and Global Learning. Still other internships focus on work-based learning that immerses the student in a civic setting, whether local, national or international.
- “Collaborates with others in developing and implementing an approach to a civic issue, evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the process, and, where applicable, describes the result.”
The Informational Interview itself will likely only provide indirect evidence of these learning outcomes. It is intended to help students develop a framework for reflecting on their own learning. Reflection, in turn, can often play an important role for students in clarifying and deepening the learning that might be more directly reflected in other artifacts in a portfolio or ePortfolio. Reflection is also an important skill for Integrative Learning.
This assignment is a part of a portfolio of assignments that students complete over the course of the semester. It is completed at some point in the semester concurrently with the internship, academic coursework and other professional development programming. It is completed, though, prior to a final Capstone Reflection (Grose, Burke, & Toston 2017).
The Informational Interview is one of several kinds of artifacts included in the portfolio that together serve potentially to enrich and support students as they reflect on their learning over the semester. First, the portfolio contains work samples from the internship, as well as academic coursework from the semester. Second, it contains a final Capstone Reflection Essay in which students develop a reflective narrative of their learning over the course of the semester (Grose, Burke, & Toston 2017). Finally, the portfolio also contains assignments such as the Informational Interview that the students complete for The Washington Center that help to prepare them to reflect at the end of the semester.
Assessment. Our assessment of this assignment has two levels. First, for the purpose of grading, we evaluate each Informational Interview Assignment with the grading rubric included here in the assignment library, which was designed with the leadership of LEAD Instructors Christopher Mesaros and Danielle Samsingh. This rubric is aligned with the AAC&U VALUE Rubric for Integrative Learning. Part of the rubric speaks to assignment-level expectations such as formatting, etc. The remaining areas speak to skills of integrative learning. For the expectations of grading, we designed our rubric to align the descriptors for an A-level performance generally with Milestone 3 on the AAC&U rubric.
Second, for the purpose of program evaluation, we rate all of the portfolios completed in the Academic Internship Program with our adaptation of the AAC&U VALUE Rubric for Integrative Learning (also included in this assignment library). The most important adaptations we made to this rubric served to broaden the descriptors to include work done beyond campus.
We have found at The Washington Center that this assignment is generally very helpful to our students. In particular, the experience of talking with a mid-career professional about his or her career path is often illuminating.
In the write-up that students complete of their interviews, though, we have found that students do not always make the jump from summarizing what they heard to analyzing the more general idea of a career path. To address this, we will be experimenting with adapting the assignment to require students to complete two interviews, but only one analysis of those interviews for the final portfolio. Students will then compare the two interviews and make observations about similarities, differences or other common themes in career paths. This, in turn, we hope will help the students become more analytical in their writing about these experiences and in their discussions of the idea of a career.
Grose, A. W. (2017). Internships, Integrative Learning and the Degree Qualifications Profile.(Occasional Paper No. 30). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NIILOA).
Grose, A., Burke, A., & Toston, T. (2017). Internship semester capstone reflection essay. Washington, DC: The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars.
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