At the 2013 AAA Career Expo brunch, Alex Orona, President of the National Association of Student Anthropologists, spoke passionately about students’ desire for the “normalization” of practicing and applied careers within the AAA. He shared student frustration with how anthropological practice continues to be treated as a second class choice to academic employment within much of the AAA and the majority of anthropology programs. Alex contended that many students see practice as a first and often preferred option. His remarks remind us of the critical role we play in ensuring proper training so that students can develop careers in practice.
Internships and practica are primary resources for training students for practicing careers. They allow students to sample a career before completing their educational training, and are increasingly important in undergraduate and graduate academic experiences. Students seek programs that facilitate these forms of on-the-job anthropological training, and many departments are adding these opportunities. For the 2013 AAA meetings, CoPAPIA partnered with COPAA (Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs) to organize a roundtable entitled “Success in Anthropology: The Place of Internships and Practica.” For our purposes, undergraduate experiences are termed “internships,” whereas “practica” refer to graduate student programs. In this two-part series, published simultaneously in this issue of AN, we describe the four university models featured in the session and summarize factors that lead to career success resulting from such experiences.
The University of Memphis Model
Stan Hyland (professor at U Memphis ) and Tim Bolding (Executive Director of United Housing, Inc or UHI) described their 30-plus year partnership in supervising masters-level practica. Hyland was instrumental in creating the applied MA program over 35 years ago which, he noted, was established to address community needs rooted in a history of regional poverty and racism. The practicum was the centerpiece of this applied anthropology degree. Today, students pursue practica in healthcare delivery, urban revitalization, environmental sustainability, cultural heritage, community development, and business. Faculty members have developed strong relationships with public and nonprofit sectors in the Greater Memphis region. While some students pursue international practica, the majority are placed in local institutions. UHI is one such example, an agency founded in 1994 to focus on affordable housing, targeting families underserved by the traditional homeownership industry.
Tim Bolding was one of Hyland’s first graduate students. For the past 20 years, he has hosted a constant stream of graduate interns. Bolding is not unlike many MA alumni from U of M; the vast majority remain in the MidSouth, working as practitioners in many fields and for a variety of organizations in local, regional, and national government, as well as the nonprofit and business sectors. Many become practicum supervisors for the next generation of MA students.
In their first semester, MA students take a one hour “Proseminar” and identify a potential practicum placement, working in conjunction with faculty advisors and anthropology practitioners. Faculty often draw upon regional contacts to identify practicum hosts, although many students make an initial contact and negotiate a placement on their own. The faculty advisor, agency supervisor, and student develop a written agreement that specifies the learning objectives, activities expected of the intern, deliverables, timeline, and financial compensation, if any. Students work a minimum of 300 hours on the practicum and receive 6 credit hours. In addition to products developed for the host organization, students prepare a written report and deliver a formal presentation which is attended by the department and community partners.
The University of North Texas Model
The University of North Texas (UNT) MA practicum is similar to the Memphis model. Faculty member Doug Henry explained that graduate students take 9 credit hours—in three phases—towards their practicum experience, which they call an “applied thesis.” The first is dedicated to preparation when students conduct research, make contacts, and do informational interviews with people who work in the field where they wish to practice. Requiring students to make their own contacts is intentional, according to Henry, since such networking teaches them important skills—“that’s how they are going to get their jobs.” The end product of this phase is a proposal for their applied thesis. During the second phase, students perform their internship hours and in the third phase, they prepare their deliverables, including a written report and oral presentation delivered to the department. End products for clients (a term widely used in practice situations) are highly variable and depend on the exact nature of the internship, but each student participates in a dialogue with the host that helps them prepare for employment opportunities.
UNT also introduces students to anthropological practice by attaching a “client” to several of their classes. Faculty, clients, and students work together during the semester to meet both course requirements and organizational needs of the client.
At the undergraduate level, UNT provides two different internship opportunities. First, students can pursue an internship through a formal course structure. Typically, students contact a faculty member about their interest in working for an identified organization. Many such placements are in nearby Dallas or Fort Worth. The second model is through study abroad. Students spend two intensive weeks with a host NGO, preceded by relevant coursework. Host NGOs are identified by the supervising faculty member, but this is very labor intensive and works best when the faculty member has firsthand familiarity with the host. For instance, Henry has supervised students in Sierra Leone, making individualized placements based on student interests. His students spend time prior to the trip learning about development issues in the country, followed by intensive internships in microfinance and agencies working with women on development issues.
As these two examples indicate, there are many ways of structuring practica and internships. In Part 2 of this article, we discuss two additional models and summarize the discussion that occurred among session participants regarding those features that seem to lead to a successful student experience for developing anthropological careers in practice.
Keri Brondo is associate professor and graduate coordinator in anthropology and Linda Bennett is associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of anthropology at the University of Memphis. They served together on CoPAPIA and COPAA and have collaborated on numerous studies of careers in practicing anthropology.
Barbara Rylko-Bauer is contributing editor of Anthropology Works, the AN column of the AAA Committee on Practicing, Applied, and Public Interest Anthropology.