This book is designed to maximize the internship experience for students enrolled in criminal justice, crime analysis, financial crimes,
homeland security, and cybersecurity degree programs. This chapter presents the background to internship programs and the important reasons why a student should consider interning. Upon completing the chapter, the reader should be able to review the internship program options at his or her campus in terms of program requirements, the number of credits that might be earned, and a general range of placement sites available. Additionally, the primary learning goals that could be derived from undertaking an internship are introduced in knowledge acquisition, knowledge application, skills development, personal development, and professional development.
Many programs require students to complete an internship as an academic requirement for degree completion. Yet, other programs have an internship requirement as an elective option.
If your program of study falls into the elective option, the question emerges of why you should consider an internship. What are the academic, personal, and professional advantages to an internship? What type of internship would be best for you? How can you be sure of selecting a good field site? How can an internship help you clarify your career goals?
One result of a good internship experience is that you will develop
experiential learning in an organizational setting. This is part of the college experience whereby learning occurs outside the classroom environment in many ways, including volunteering, participation in student and community organizations, study tours, research with faculty members, work-study, and independent study assignments. An internship will also increase your knowledge and enhance your understanding of an organization’s complexities and its component parts. You may find that you better understand and appreciate what you have learned in the classroom once you have applied your knowledge in a professional setting. Not all knowledge is gained in the classroom. Applications of various concepts and theories and new topic content areas are often gained during an internship. Working under the guidance of a mentor shows you how to perform various tasks.
Many students are often uncertain about what area of the field best suits their personal and professional goals. The internship experience will help to self-evaluate how you may fit into the field after graduation.
If you decide on a career in criminal justice or a related field, the internship experience will prove invaluable. In addition to gaining work experience, which is always a positive résumé item for future employment, you will develop social networks with practitioners who can help you set your future career goals and possibly assist in procuring future employment. They may help identify job openings, write letters of recommendation, or call their colleagues to recommend you. The internship may even lead to employment at the internship site if there is an available opening, and you are an outstanding worker.
Background of Internships
The development of internships can be traced to the Middle Ages when the teaching of skills and competencies for most professions and trades was accomplished by a young person serving an apprenticeship with a skilled mentor. The first professional field to adopt this model was in the medical sciences, wherein future doctors and nurses learned their skills under senior instructors. As discussed by Perlin (2012), this concept continues today in diverse academic areas such as law, journalism, social services, public administration, and education. Some states require field training before the student may be granted a license or certificate to practice in certain professions.
How does this apply to criminal justice? From the disciplinary perspective, criminal justice is a general term that denotes interdisciplinary scholarly teaching and research in the behavioral and social sciences (including law and public administration), focusing on the social problems of crime (Myren, 1979, p. 22). It is hypothesized that during the early years of the discipline, the idea for a field experience component in many college programs may have been passed along by faculty in fields in which such a tradition already existed. The real boost for
internships in criminal justice occurred in 1968 when the
Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) provided stipends for full-time students to serve in an agency for eight weeks or more. The goals of the program were aimed at giving students direct hands-on experience as part of their course of study and providing training for future professionals and additional personnel on a limited basis to agencies. Although this program was phased out in the early 1980s, along with the entire LEAA apparatus, the internship component remains strong in most programs. Studies of criminal justice academic programs throughout the United States find that the majority have some form of internship offering, varying from three credit hours on a part-time basis to 15 credit hours for a full semester (Stichman & Farkas, 2005). Today, internships are part of elective opportunities for upper-level students, as presented in certification standards by the
Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (2005). Many organizations actively recruit interns for formal semester or summer programs. Examples include the major federal law enforcement agencies, various state police and criminal justice-related agencies, a wide range of county and local agencies dealing with law enforcement, courts, corrections, public administration, probation and parole, homeland security, private security services, and corporations dealing with fraud and cybersecurity issues. For this text, this wide range of public- and private-sector organizations dealing with crime and security will come under the academic rubric of “criminal justice.”
career services office will have references and links to websites that post internship possibilities, including www.findinternships.com
. Directories and websites have to be approached with caution, because they generally provide information only on significant companies and private-sector agencies. Nevertheless, they all offer the student great leads and ideas in seeking placement in a particular field or location. Most
internship coordinators would advise you to review a wide number of organizations before deciding on an internship site.
The term “internship” is used throughout this text, but the field experience program at your college may appear under a different title, such as “
practicum,” or “cooperative education.” These terms are often used interchangeably to denote either full- or part-time work experience
in which the student is assigned definite tasks and responsibilities. Most internship programs are credit-bearing and relate to the academic program curriculum. The completion of an academic internship usually earns a student college credits, the number of which generally depends on the length of time in the field. The standard 40 hours of fieldwork equates to one credit hour. During this time, the student is required to complete various academic assignments and the assigned tasks at the field site. Some agencies provide a monetary stipend for students, but most programs are unpaid, especially those in the public sector.
Cooperative education programs are not the same as internships. Often termed “work experience education” or simply “co-op,” the student in a cooperative education program works in the field for a designated time as part of the academic degree requirements. Cooperative education students are often not viewed as interns but as entry-level employees for a designative time, which may last four to six months. Some students may be allowed to take two or three cooperative education experiences, which will extend their degree work to five years. In most organizations with cooperative education programs, the students receive a salary or stipend for their work. Colleges and universities that have a strong tradition in cooperative education have developed extensive networks for placements world-wide. However, it is up to the student to secure a placement by filing a cover letter and résumé and going through the placement process.
Another field component used by some companies is the concept of “
job shadowing,” whereby an organization allows students to spend a short period of time in the workplace to see what goes on in the “day in the life” of a police officer, probation officer, or crime analyst. As discussed by Loretto (2019), these arrangements are based on formal and informal arrangements between the school, the student, and the organization.
Today internships are an integral part of many academic programs in the United States. According to former State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, student internships are often recalled as the most valuable experience of students’ education. “Students are more engaged with the curriculum, likely to graduate on time, and they acquire the hands-on experience that ensures them a competitive edge in today’s job market” (Bump, 2016, par. 3). The SUNY system and other major academic institutions have encouraged all students to take an internship during their course of study by creating articulations and databases with business and not-for-profit organizations.
Discussing the role of higher education in the job market, Selingo (2016), in There Is Life After College, writes that internships taken during the college experience have become a de facto requirement in many industries, particularly in finance, technology, and scientific services. This trend has impacted hiring trends for many graduates in that employers not only want to see the completion of the degree but some evidence that the candidate has some experience and has applied skills in the workplace (p. 16).
At this time, a good portion of your academic learning probably involves sitting in a classroom or logging into an online platform, undertaking readings from books and articles, taking notes from a lecture, or discussing issues in a seminar or discussion forum. Much of what you learn depends on the nature of the course, the instructor, specific assignments and discussion threads, readings, and, at times, other students in the class. Of course, what you get out of the traditional classroom or online environment also depends on your preparation and involvement efforts.
In an internship program, self-direction is essential to a valuable learning experience. According to Segroi and Ryniker (2002, p. 188), internships are a form of
experiential learning whereby “the student takes
significant responsibility in the learning process.” While many students are apprehensive about this approach to learning because it is not the usual way, for many, the knowledge acquired through an internship is most satisfying. “For the first time, I really know how to conduct an investigation and put a case together,” remarked one student. Another stated, “I learned a great deal about probation and the way an agency operates. It was more than I could ever gain from a textbook.” Most students who intern find that they gain a great deal of knowledge about an organization that cannot be learned in the classroom environment. The day-to-day interaction with staff, clients, and the community at large provides a rich educational experience.