Internships at GVSU

Internships play a key component in helping students apply the theoretical foundations they are learning in the classroom to real-work situations. Although Grand Valley does not have a university-wide internship policy, a finely tuned internship program contains key processes that will be discussed in this guide. It is our hope that you will be able to tailor this information to fit your academic and departmental needs. 

Whether your department/unit already has a highly functional internship program, or you are starting from scratch, it is our hope that you will find this guide to be a helpful resource. 

employer and student shaking hands at career fair

Internships Defined

An internship, defined as a short-term (usually semester long) opportunity for a student to gain valuable hands-on experience in their field of study/interest, has many invaluable benefits to not only the student, but can enrich academic programs, and satisfy the needs of area employers.

GVSU does not have a campus-wide internship program, but for a position to be considered an internship, the following criteria should be met (NACE, 2011):

  • The experience must be an extension of the classroom: a learning experience that provides for applying the knowledge gained in the classroom. It must not be simply to advance the operations of the employer or the work that a regular employee would routinely perform.
  • The experience has a defined beginning and end (typically one semester in length or 15 weeks), and a job description with desired qualifications.
  • There are clearly defined learning objectives/goals related to the professional goals of the student’s academic coursework.
  • There is supervision by a professional, preferably with expertise and educational and/or professional background in the field of experience. 
  • There is routine feedback by the supervisor and a formal evaluation conducted at the end of the experience. 
  • There are resources, equipment, and facilities provided by the employer that support learning objectives/goals.
  • The experience does not take place in a private home.

Who's Involved

The student intern is responsible for searching, applying, and receiving the internship. This is great practice for when they graduate and are looking for full-time employment. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that their academic department will approve the experience for academic credit, as well as submit all appropriate paperwork by the appropriate deadlines.

Although the student will be working for their interning organization, it is also important they remember they are representing GVSU and their academic department. For this reason, all students should act in a professional and ethical manner and will be held to the provisions outlined in the Student Handbook (something the faculty internship coordinator may want to reiterate). 

The site or field supervisor is responsible for overseeing the work of the student intern. Ideally, this person will serve as a mentor to the student, offering helpful advice on the industry and ways to succeed in the field. It is also important for this person to have experience and knowledge in the area the student is interning. For example, if an employer is looking for someone to create marketing logos, it’s typically more meaningful for the student if they are interning for someone who has a graphic design or marketing background.

The site supervisor should also provide feedback on the intern’s work throughout the duration of the internship. This can be done informally but should consist of at least one written evaluation. We recommend two evaluations - one halfway through the internship, and one at the end. The Career Center does send out requests for mid-term feedback and final employer and student evaluations for many campus departments/units. Additional information on the Internship Management System (IMS) can be found below.


The faculty internship coordinator is responsible for helping the intern integrate their internship into their total academic experience. It is important for the intern to meet with their faculty internship coordinator prior to starting the internship to make sure the internship will count for academic credit, which can only be approved by faculty. This will also help the student understand the assignments required throughout the semester. Faculty internship coordinators can also serve as a helpful resource in identifying possible internship sites and locations that would appropriately fit the student’s academic and professional needs. 

Throughout the semester, the faculty internship coordinator will keep in contact with the intern providing them with direction and/or support. It’s also important to make contact with the site supervisor at least once during the internship. At the end of the semester, the faculty will evaluate the intern’s learning based on assignments, evaluations, and feedback from the site supervisor and submit the final grade.


The Career Center is the general resource at GVSU for those involved with the internship process - students, employers, and faculty.  We have a staff of professional advisors available to assist students in preparation for finding and completing an internship. Resume assistance, interviewing advice, and internship search tips are offered through drop-ins, one-on-one appointments and workshops throughout the school year. Programming such as career fairs, career community based fairs, and panel presentations are also put on by the Career Center to allow students to network with potential employers. In addition, we are consistently meeting with employers to create more internship opportunities for students.


Just like any other class, an internship class should also have a course syllabus. This will help the student understand the requirements of the internship and gain an understanding of what they should be learning throughout the course of their internship. Depending on the size of your program, this might be something each faculty internship coordinator reviews individually with the student intern, or used in an internship seminar (which will be discussed in more detail below).

To legitimatize and formalize the internship arrangement between the student, employer, and University, it is important to have all parties sign an Internship Agreement Form. Some departments have created their own forms; however, the Career Center has created an online system for overseeing this process called the Internship Management System (IMS). The departments utilizing IMS have predominantly found it to be easier and more efficient than using a paper form. 

At the beginning of the student’s internship, it is important for them to develop a set of learning objectives. This is best done in collaboration with their site supervisor so they can establish specific projects/assignments that will help them achieve each objective. As the faculty internship coordinator, you can then review the objectives and make suggestions as needed. It is helpful for learning objectives to be both academic - and career-driven as this will help the student begin to see and apply theoretical application and transferable skills (i.e.: gain a better understanding of the societal effects of a community garden in the Southwest area of Grand Rapids and develop public speaking skills).

Reflective assignments help the student connect what they are doing in their internship to theories and concepts they have learned in the classroom. Active, intentional, and critical reflection is what helps transform the work experience into a learning experience (Sweitzer and King, 2018). Reflective assignments can include:

  • Journaling (through structured prompts or unstructured freeform)
  • Portfolios/ePortfolios to showcase samples of work, learning outcomes, and final projects
  • Final reflective essay
  • Employer/intern evaluation
  • Presentation of experience

The GVSU’s Career Center manages a website called Experience Matters that provides space for interns to share their experiences with others. The student’s name and contact information is not shared publicly on the website, however faculty internship coordinators are able to review them from a secured administrative access site. Please contact Rachel Becklin in the Career Center if you’re interested in incorporating this into your internship class.


Seminar classes are typically small group meetings with other interning students. They are moderated by a faculty member and can be weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly. These seminars allow the students to come together and share their experiences; learning from each other and connecting their classroom learning to what they are seeing in their internship. The use of technology (blogging, Blackboard, Zoom, etc.) can be helpful for internships outside of GVSU’s geographic area.

Awarding academic credit for an internship experience is determined by the student’s academic department. Some programs have one person who oversees all internships in a particular major, while others have students work with their individual faculty advisor or a faculty who has expertise in the student’s internship area. Because internships play such a valuable role in future employment, we encourage faculty to consider not only the internship’s relevance to the academic content, but how it fits into the student’s ultimate career goals. 

Many students end up working in fields that indirectly relate to their major, and often it’s the internship experience that has either guided this or helped the student acquire the necessary skills to be successful in a particular field. For these types of experiences, it is even more critical that the student work with the internship site supervisor and faculty internship coordinator to establish strong learning objectives. 

As with any course, it is important to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of your internship program. For this reason, it is helpful to establish goals for your program each year. Examples may include increasing the number of students participating, establishing new internship placement sites, updating supplemental reading materials, etc. Receiving feedback from both your students and employers can help you consistently evaluate and improve your program.

Legal Issues

It is important to note that a student can get paid while still receiving academic credit for an internship - in fact we encourage it! Legally, employers must follow the Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standard Act. The Seven Point Test should be used by an employer when evaluating the legalities of payment.

Because internships are often part-time and temporary, interns are typically not afforded any medical or insurance benefits. It is highly recommended for employers to cover their interns under worker’s compensation; however they are not legally obligated to do so.

In most cases, when a student is getting academic credit for their internship, GVSU’s liability coverage extends to the student, and typically the Career Center’s online Internship Agreement is a sufficient contract between the student, employer and University. GVSU’s Risk Management department is a great resource regarding liability questions. 

Some departments and employers have specific Affiliation Agreements in place that outline the arrangement made by the employer and academic department (these are more typical for experiences in a clinical setting). For questions about what is appropriate for your department, please contact Rachel Becklin in the Career Center.


Students, faculty or volunteers (associates) at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) may participate in clinical and non-clinical training activities at affiliated health facilities.  In order to be protective of everyone involved, your health and the health and safety of the community in which you may serve; certain participation guidelines have been established.

Infectious, communicable diseases are common in many clinical training sites and may be a threat to our associates.  During the performance of clinical training, fieldwork, research or internship activities, our associates may interact and be exposed to clients and research participants with diseases such as but not limited to tuberculosis (TB), hepatitis B (HBV), influenza, and other infections.

University policy, state, and federal statutory regulations, accreditation standards for affiliated agencies require that our associates comply with certain health, safety and legal requirements applicable to their occupation and that those individuals demonstrate particular cognitive and clinical competencies consistent with their program’s minimum practice standards.  As such, GVSU is contractually mandated to ensure all associates attain and maintain full compliance with each program’s compliance requirements.

To ensure proper health compliance, it is important to send the student's name, email, internship site, and brief internship description to the Health Compliance Office, who will follow-up with the students regarding any necessary paperwork. 

Frequently Asked Questions

The University Curriculum Committee handles a variety of decisions related to curriculum matters including changes to courses, introduction of new courses, or changes in curriculum requirements. 

This varies by department, but typically 50 hours of work is the equivalent to one credit hour, so a student earning three credit hours will work 150 hours or 10-15 hours/week. It is important for the student to work with their employer to establish a set schedule and ensure the employer’s needs are being met as well as the student’s.

While it is okay to personally inform select students of a potential opportunity, to ensure you are adhering to the University’s EEO standards, it is also recommended you send this to the Career Center to post broadly on Handshake

Start with your colleagues! There are some very well-developed internship programs overseen by your peers right here at GVSU. A few examples include Writing, Psychology, and Exercise Science.  

Professional organizations and research firms such as AAC&U (Association of American Colleges and Universities) Intern Bridge, and Society for Experiential Education provide great resources on their websites. You may also want to check out NACE (National Association of College and Employers) for employment statistics and information.

Additional Information

Page last modified March 26, 2024