Creating Meaningful Internships: Tips for Supervisors

BobbiMeyer.jpgGuest post by Bobbi Meyer, Internship Coordinator at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa

As a nonprofit professional, you have likely been an intern at some point in your career, and perhaps have had the opportunity to supervise one. Through these experiences, I imagine you’ve found that not all internships are created equal. 

Serving as the Internship Coordinator for Simpson College, I have the daily opportunity to converse with students about their experiences and read their reflective journals and evaluations. I have found there are defining themes that set outstanding internships apart from those that are lackluster:

Introduction and inclusion in the organization’s culture:
Starting a new internship is a daunting task. Interns like to feel that their supervisors are excited to have them aboard. A great supervisor will take time on the intern’s first day to have a one-on-one meeting to discuss the intern’s background, skills, goals, and hopes for the experience. The supervisor will also introduce the intern to other employees and will include him/her in lines of office communication. Does your organization have fun rituals – birthday celebrations, Friday jeans day, office potlucks? If so, include your interns. The more interns are made to feel a part of the organization, the more they will be motivated to work.

Projects and tasks at an appropriate level of responsibility:
I encourage you to assign projects and tasks to your interns that match their abilities. After getting to know your intern and his/her strengths, find projects that will help the student develop and be challenged. At the same time, be sure the project isn’t so far out of the intern’s comfort zone that they aren’t able to tackle it with confidence. Also, be sensitive to the time required for those projects. You’ll want to assign the intern enough so he/she won’t be bored, but not so much that the work becomes overwhelming.

Frequent feedback, recognition, and mentorship:
Internships are such a developmental time for students. Interns are testing out the professional world and crave your feedback to know how they are doing. Take time to recognize the great work of your interns as well as areas for continued growth.

Opportunities to network:
Interns have their eye on the future. If you have a full-time opening they can transition into, fantastic! If not, try to find ways to help the student network. You might bring your intern to a YNPN meeting, set that person up for a coffee with a colleague in a different organization, or make introductions on LinkedIn. You will have helped your students the most if they feel they have an idea of what to do next in terms of their career development.

Simpson College is excited to partner with you for student internships. In addition to our traditional internship program, we also have a grant which funds unpaid experiences for junior and senior level students who exhibit financial need. If you’d like to learn more about our office or the grant, please visit: or email me at [email protected].

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