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Internship Structure & Expectations

Rethink the System, Work for Change

While our internships all share some characteristics, there also can be considerable variation in how they work.

They all share a broad concept of sustainability, community involvement, and a focus on both process and content—and because sustainability has many interdependent facets, most internships work at both a detail and big-picture level. Alliance internships generally  involve a combination of research, analyzing existing policy and developing new or revised policy, meeting with community collaborators, and developing informative materials and presentations to engage the public and raise awareness of the need for change. Interns are also expected to support or assist with other Alliance projects when time permits.

Collaboration & the Sustainability Commons – Many internships connect with existing projects where people are already working towards a related goal. In addition to regular meetings, many of these initiatives involve the Sustainability Commons, an online platform for collaboration. Interns are expected to participate in the appropriate online communities by offering ideas, commenting on ideas that others post, and helping develop good implementation strategies. Whether online or in the community, collaborative work depends on each participant contributing as much as possible—and sharing it with others as soon as possible—so the final product builds on everyone’s ideas and efforts.

Internships and Academic Credit – Experience is one of the primary ways people learn, but a good internship builds on and complements classroom studies: (1) it provides an opportunity for students to apply and interpret their classroom learning in real-world situations; and (2) it helps students develop their ability to learn from the practical problems they encounter, where learning objectives and process are not structured for them.

At the same time, interns are expected to reflect on their experience, to relate it to their academic experience and career or job goals. Your internship is an opportunity to explore how your interests and goals intersect with issues and public policy, to develop and practice communication skills, and to formulate questions about your work and the project—including questions and ideas about how the project itself could be more effective and about the moral & philosophical issues involved. Interns are expected to incorporate these elements into their work.

Each college has its own specific requirements, but all interns are expected to average 10–12 hours per week, including a substantial amount of independent work. (Because some of the work is independent, students sometimes assume they can get by with only a few hours per week, but failing to put in the needed time can result in an intern being terminated before the semester is over.)

Types of Internships – Depending on what’s happening — or needs to happen — in the community, an internship can be exploratory or it can be tied to a very specific result needed at a particular time. The schedule, structure, and expectations are all tied to the purpose, so there is a lot of variation in the schedule and the amount of independence required. Although they share many features, it may help to think of internships as fitting into 3 general types:

Internships that focus on a type of work (such as writing or design)

Communications & Media and Graphic Design interns focus on developing ways to reach or engage specific audiences using printed materials, presentations, posters, face-to-face contacts, and/or online content and may involve organizing or participating in community events. Writing or design interns do not just work with others’ content; they usually are active participants in the process of developing facts and goals. They may also assist other interns or community partners.

Internships that focus on a topic (such as air pollution, food, or health)

Some internships focus primarily on a specific  area of concern. (For example: Campus Sustainability & STARS, Climate Action, Climate & Sustainability in School, Community & Restorative Justice, FairTrade, Healthy Food for Healthy Communities, Public Health, and Sustainability & Business.) These internships usually offer considerable flexibility in choosing & developing a specific focus, but may also involve working in partnership with other Alliance working groups or with one or more other organizations in the community — in which case  collaboration becomes more important than individual flexibility.

These internships can involve intensive writing to present the content that is developed, because each internship focuses on producing a tangible output that will help move the long-term goal forward. For example, the public health field involves many different areas of concern, but a given internship will usually focus on raising awareness about, and creating action on, a specific area such as food or air quality or endocrine disruptors. They can involve various types of activism, ranging from a report or presentation making recommendations to active discussion with people being asked to implement recommendations. [See reports, posters, and articles by previous interns.]

Internships with a Project Orientation

Some internships, such as Campus Sustainability 2.0, and Action for Change / Put Your Values to Work are in a class by themselves, because they involve taking broad responsibility for analyzing an issue, planning, organizing, and creating results. This requires independent thinking, above-average time-management skills, the ability to formulate and communicate goals & objectives effectively; and the ability to engage with a variety of people and groups on multiple aspects of sustainability.

The Editorial Intern for the annual Sustainable Lehigh Valley directory is another unique type of internship. It requires a tight schedule & very specific output requirements, but includes many opportunities for creativity & independent work. The schedule is very intense in the beginning, but most of the detail work is completed well before the semester ends.

[Updated September 2017]