James E. Alleman
About the research
This report summarizes efforts and key outcomes of a pilot student internship program developed in 2012 jointly by the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Institute for Transportation (InTrans) at Iowa State University (ISU). The program provided students at ISU, and other colleges and universities in and around the state of Iowa experiential learning opportunities while addressing programmatic needs of the Iowa DOT. While initiated as a summer program, it was extended into the 2012 Fall semester. The summer program had 56 interns assigned to DOT office and projects across the state, and the 22 student interns in the Fall program were assigned to offices in Ames.
The student interns maintained weekly journals and submitted written progress reports twice each month, as well as a final report. The faculty mentors made site visits to meet with the interns and their supervisors to monitor and evaluate the students’ activities, progress, and obtain feedback from the interns and their supervisors regarding the program. Most students and all supervisors completed online surveys to help evaluate the program.
Overall, more than 80 percent of the interns and more than 90 percent of the supervisor responses rated the program outcomes as “Great” or “OK.” The interns particularly valued opportunities to work in professional settings, responsibilities entrusted to them, interactions with other professionals and practitioners, understanding the application of their “coursework” in the real world, gaining first-hand experience in the relationships between various aspects of transportation projects, and learning about expectations in a professional setting. Supervisors’ comments were similar to those from the students, and they also noted the importance of establishing for the long term the internship and coop programs. Nearly 100 percent of the interns and 100 percent of the supervisors stated that they would recommend the program to future students. Due to the contributions made by the student interns, the Iowa DOT also was able to complete many activities that they would otherwise not have been able to complete during this time frame. Areas for potential improvement identified in the evaluations include matters related to the planning and coordination between the DOT and InTrans prior to the recruitment and hiring of the interns, providing longer lead times for the DOT personnel and offices, reducing reporting requirements for the interns, streamlining administrative and payroll matters.
Overall, participants in the 2012 Summer and fall pilot internship programs had extremely positive comments about the benefits they and the Iowa DOT derived from the program. Thus, the investments in this program have short-term and long-term payoffs.