Embracing the Power of College Interns as Volunteers
Internships in museums are an increasingly hot-button issue in the museum field. At the American Alliance of Museums 2016 Annual meeting AAMV Board members contributed to this wider discussion during a round table discussion, "Embracing the Power of College Interns as Volunteers." Below are some take-away notes and thoughts from the session.
Conversations at AAM | Thursday 26 May, 2016 | 2:45-4:00 p.m.
This session began a conversation between colleagues, contribute to a wider conversation happening in the field, and provide opportunities for museum professionals to share best practices. Below are some notes for the four different facilitated conversations that occurred. We hope that this will be an ongoing conversation through e-mail, the AAMV Listserve, and future state, regional, and national conferences.
Topic #1: The Institutional Level: Ethics (Courtesy Omar Eaton-Martinez)
- People believe paying interns is the right thing to do. However, they run into a hurdle with academic programs who do not allow students to get paid for internships that they earn credit for.
- Some feel that they want to pay but do not have the financial capacity to do so. How can we fix this problem?
- People see that a consequence of not being able to pay is not attracting applicants of color.
- People were interested to learn more about partnering with schools who have scholarships for students that get selected for non-paid internships.
* The hardest part of the conversation to have is to come up with solutions that were scalable to all museums.
Topic #2: Recruiting, Placing, and Setting Expectations (Courtesy Herbert Jones)
- Staff buy-in (from the top down) for the internship program is essential. Keeping everyone on the same page, and working to an institutionally agreed upon standard helps avoid problems down the road.
- Contracts may be helpful in holding all parties accountable to the objectives of the internship. Lay out in writing what is to be done, and have people sign off
- There is a difference between mentoring an intern vs. mentoring a junior staff member. Staff should be educated about these difference and given tools to do it
- Interns should be encouraged to volunteer/serve on a board to understand organizational structure/operations, etc.
Topic #3: Onboarding/day one of internships. (Courtesy Megan Millman)
· Creating a “how to do everything” folder and keeping it up to date. Having an internship manual was something that many institutions mentioned having, or having at one point, but keeping it up to date with each new batch of interns is essential. Others also mentioned allowing interns to add to the manual/handbook so that it serves as a living document that reflects prior intern thoughts as well as the supervisors.
- Having an internship manual was something that many institutions mentioned having, or having at one point, but keeping it up to date with each new batch of interns is essential. Others also mentioned allowing interns to add to the manual/handbook so that it serves as a living document that reflects prior intern thoughts as well as the supervisors.
· Having some sort of manual for all staff that allowed for standardization of the onboarding of interns was also mentioned as an essential tool. This also helps keep things consistent across departments in larger institutions.
· Many of the discussions echoed the idea of “treating interns as employees.” This was related to training and standards. Interns should be held to the same standards as employees – for example, is there a penalty for being late, dress code, etc. We also discussed this in relation to training – for example, any training or documents that you received as a new employee should also be provided for the intern.
· We talked about evaluation of the interns, but another idea was flipping it and doing an evaluation of the supervisor as well. We could all learn from each other!
· When there are multiple groups working together (such as teen volunteers, college interns, graduate interns, etc.) making clear who are their peers and how to interact between the different groups is essential.
· Make sure to ask the interns questions and REALLY LISTEN to what they are saying. Asking them to reflect back after a project is also good – for example, ask: what do you wish you were told, what could I have done different to make this project more successful, etc.
· One interesting idea shared with regard to structuring the internship, was after the intern had been there for a bit and worked on supervisor directed projects, the supervisor could allow the intern to choose a project. I thought this was a great idea for allowing the intern to help the institution complete projects, but also allowing the institution to help the intern achieve their individual goals.
Topic #4: Supervising Interns (Courtesy Richard Harker)
- Developing strong faculty relationships is essential to understand their expectations and to how to create the richest possible learning environment for interns
- Project based internships were widely identified as being a strong method of operation. Having the students observe/learn in the early weeks and then develop their own material with supervision later, was also identified as being impactful
- Having the interns work on a weekly assignment/journal can also be a good way to keep your finger on the pulse of the day-to-day
- Training our colleagues on how to supervise interns is vital, including having them understand the difference between paid staff and interns, reminding them of this, and using the Depart of Labors Fair Labor Standards to emphasize this. Providing template work plans/syllabi and other materials can also help with this on-going education
- Develop institutional guidelines and standards that apply to all staff AND interns to help everyone have the most meaningful experience
- Interns are not here to replace paid staff.
-Conduct evaluations of the intern, and walk them through this, but also have the interns evaluate the museum and their supervisor. Feedback goes both ways.
“Resources for the Museum Industry to Discuss Unpaid Internships,” American Alliance of Museums, http://www.aam-us.org/home/unpaid-museum-internships
Megan Millman, Program Assistant, Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library, Wilmington, DE
Herbert Jones, Volunteer and Intern Program Manager, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Omar Eaton-Martinez, Intern and Fellows Program, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Washington, DC
Richard Harker, Education and Outreach Manager, Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA