• How Others Do It: Vanderbilt Internship Focuses on Analysis, Problem-Solving

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
    May 15, 2013

    The capstone experience for Vanderbilt University’s undergraduate Human and Organizational Development (HOD) degree is an internship in which the learning objectives are associated with the coursework, not the vocational learning.

    “As a result, the host employers play a supportive role in developing problem-solving skills,” explains Victoria Davis, director of internships in the Department of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt. “For us to approve an internship site, these employers must agree to allow the students to complete the accompanying coursework. This means that, while a student is doing the work of the organization, the organization allows the student to study it, identify a project, and manage the project from beginning to end.”

    The HOD degree’s overarching competency is to understand and solve problems in organizations and communities.

    “The internship both promotes and assesses the student’s ability to do so, and the instructional design and coursework provide the structure for this combined learning and assessment process,” Davis says. “Students choose their internship organization to pursue the vocational learning of a traditional internship, and they do the work of the organization in the same way as any other student intern.”

    However, she adds that the academic learning results from the extensive coursework that allows students to apply concepts from earlier HOD courses as they attempt to understand and add value to the organization.

    “For academic purposes, the internship organization becomes a living case study, not an experiential classroom; students study the organization to diagnose the effectiveness of the organizational system and to select and implement an intervention that improves the system’s overall performance,” she explains.

    The internship project adds value by:

    • Building upon a strength,
    • Fixing a weakness,
    • Realizing an opportunity, or
    • Guarding against a threat.

    The project the student completes also has to have a life beyond the internship experience. For example, one intern developed a program that increased hospital hand-washing compliance from 58 percent to 93 percent.

    Davis says the department’s approach to its internship program has been beneficial to all parties involved.

    “Our students complete their internships with a professional piece of work they can take to a job interview,” she explains. “It demonstrates they can actually do the work, not [just have] the potential to do the work. It is differentiating. For the department and the university, an internship that ensures all students add value [to their host organization] helps to create a positive reputation in the community.”


How Others Do It: Vanderbilt Internship Focuses on Analysis, Problem-Solving