Giving Students Hands-On Experience
by Jody Andres AIA LEED AP and Sean Duncanson
This article originally appeared in the November 2022 School Business Affairs magazine and is posted with permission of the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO). The text herein does not necessarily represent the views or policies of ASBO International, and use of this imprint does not imply any endorsement or recognition by ASBO International and its officers or affiliates.
Internships are strongly encouraged and heavily promoted for nearly every professional field, but do they live up to expectations? In our experience, they do; we have seen value for the student, the educational institution, and our firm. As we shine a spotlight on interns, we’ll let you hear why they’re doing an internship, what they get out of it, and the benefits they envision.
Why Students Value Internships
Most students see internships as a way to gain hands-on experience in their field of study as they follow a pathway to future employment. The majority of the project management interns at Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction work on a construction site. Their involvement in the day-to-day construction activities helps them obtain the skills to become a project manager.
"Interning on site, the students learn how to deal with a multitude of issues that surface, and to understand what it takes to keep a project on schedule and under budget."
Interning on site, the students learn how to deal with a multitude of issues that surface, and to understand what it takes to keep a project on schedule and under budget. They learn how to evaluate project progress; communicate up, down, and across the organization; and maintain a safe construction environment. This type of experience cannot be duplicated in the classroom, and our interns tell us that being on-site is what they enjoy and value the most.
The interns also value opportunities to hone their design skills. Emma Langenhuizen, for example, who has interned with us for two summers, shares, “What I’m looking forward to most during my internship this summer is the opportunity to work on different projects, to continue developing my design skills, more specifically my technical skills, and to continue to grow my passion for architecture and design.” She goes on to say, “This work gives me the chance to learn about the design profession outside of the classroom.”
Haley Grube, who is a first-time intern, offers a different perspective: “I’m looking forward to improving my skills related to design software and achieving a better overall understanding of how the profession works on a day-to-day basis. I hope, over the course of the summer, I gain real-world practical experience that will help me grow as an aspiring architect.”
Although a paycheck is welcome, that’s not all interns receive. Most students earn either high school or college credits for their work. In addition, they can gain hands-on skills using the tools they need immediately upon joining the workforce.
Another skill that internships provide relates to professional communication. Communication with family, friends, and teachers can be very different from that required to work effectively with colleagues or to interact successfully with clients. Gaining this skill allows interns to quickly establish their personal brand in a positive way when they enter the workforce.
By seeking an internship early in their education, many interns develop clarity on the direction of their careers. With hands-on experience, they learn which aspects of the industry excite them and which are not for them. Additionally, they can get a sense of the type of company (large or small) that is best for them and which kind of corporate culture best suits their personality.
For example, Mackenzie Beck–when she started at Hoffman as a design intern in high school–worked with a licensed architect to design and document a new park shelter that her construction classmates built as part of their educational training. When she began her internship, she wanted to be an architect or engineer. As she was exposed to the construction site in her second summer as an intern, she shifted to pursue an architectural engineering degree with an emphasis on building mechanical systems.
“My intern experience was amazing,” Mackenzie explains. “Coworkers were warm, welcoming, and encouraging. I received a vast amount of invaluable experience in a condensed time line due to the tremendous organization and numerous hands-on projects. I used programs such as InDesign, Photoshop, and Revit.”
She continues: “In my very first week with Hoffman, I was on the architectural team to design the Sunset Park shelter pavilion, which was built by Kimberly High School’s Building Construction II class. this experience was like no other. This was very special to me, considering I was a student at Kimberly High School. I monitored the project from the design stage, actual building, and completion of the project. Overall, I gained a vast amount of knowledge and experience in design and construction that I am using in further endeavors.”
Another former intern, AJ Weiskopf, shares: “I was allotted the same responsibility and held to the same standards as the rest of the design staff. I was able to participate in the production of construction documents, site visits, team meetings, lunch and learns, and company events, which allowed for a well-rounded learning experience.”
Weiskopf translated his internship into a full-time position with Hoffman as a project designer.
Internships are valuable to potential employers, educational institutions, and students. Real-life experience carries clout that sways how potential employers see the students and their ability to work successfully in the workplace. The stories and experiences that students bring back from their time on-site influence the conversations in the classroom and thus the learning. The interactions with the next generation of professionals affect recruiting, hiring, and retention at firms and companies around the world.