MPA Internship

Definition and Purpose of an MPA Internship:

The internship is an experiential learning activity which removes the student from the traditional classroom role of the “passive-receiver” of information, and places the student into the more active role of “participant-observer” in the work setting. The MPA internship experience at New Mexico State University is designed with respect to several goals and should provide opportunities to:

  1. Instill and foster a sense of professionalism.
  2. Gain first-hand information and a greater understanding of a public or third-sector organization in terms of function, operation and impact.
  3. Enhance existing job-related skills and decision-making abilities, while developing new competencies.
  4. Observe and participate in the application of knowledge in functional situations.
  5. Practice using methodological skills and techniques related to data collection, organization and analysis.
  6. Communicate specialized and technical information in both written and oral form.
  7. Develop new professional contacts and assess career objectives.

An MPA student who selects the program’s internship option is required to secure an internship in the public or not-for-profit sector, and to subsequently enroll in GOVT 510 for 3 credits. A student who is already working in an appropriate organization (an in-service student) may complete the internship in that setting, although the specific project undertaken must extend beyond the normal scope of his or her official duties. A student who is not working in an appropriate organization (a pre-service student), must identify an organization that is willing to sponsor her or him as an intern. The MPA faculty will assist in finding an internship placement but it is the student’s responsibility to find an acceptable position. During the internship each student will work with and under the direction of a student-selected faculty internship advisor (advisor) and an agency internship supervisor (supervisor). The MPA Director serves as a point of contact, assists in finding internships, and helps to coordinate specific placements through the internship agreement process discussed below. All materials submitted in fulfillment of GOVT 510 requirements will be treated with the utmost confidentially by the MPA program and New Mexico State University.

Criteria for Selecting a Sponsoring Organization:

In identifying a setting for completing the internship requirement students are encouraged to pursue opportunities directly related to their career interests. This might include a placement in either the public or non-profit sector. It can be an organization with general or limited jurisdiction, and may range from local to international in focus and impact. Although students are given considerable latitude, the MPA program utilizes the following criteria in approving a particular organization or agency to sponsor an internship:

  1. The agency must be recognized as having a service function, be legally established, and have sound financial support;
  2. The agency must approve in writing the internship arrangement between the student, the agency and the MPA program;
  3. The agency supervisor of the intern should be willing to:
    • A. give sufficient time to the intern, while providing guidance in the completion of on-the-job tasks;
    • B. provide a practical and reasonable orientation of the workings of the agency;
    • C. schedule regular supervisory conferences with the intern;
    • D. be available in emergency situations;
    • E. communicate periodically with the faculty advisor to discuss the performance of the intern;
    • F. meet with the advisor and/or MPA Director as necessary; and
    • G. prepare two written evaluations for the faculty advisor.
  4. The agency should provide suitable desk space, office supplies, reimbursements for expenses while on agency business, clerical and other support services, and private space for supervisory conferences, interviews or other activities requiring privacy; and
  5. The agency should seek to identify a major project (or a set of projects) with an identifiable end-product(s) (e.g., report, manual, training program, new procedures etc.) for the intern to complete, particularly when the internship involves an in-service student.

Although compensation is not required, the sponsoring agency should make every effort possible to provide for some sort of salary for an intern, especially in the case of a pre-service student. This might take the form of an hourly rate, a contracted amount or salary supplement. All arrangements are to be stipulated in the internship agreement.

Recent MPA Internship Locations:

  • Association of Norwegian Students Abroad
  • The Caring Association for Native Americans
  • City of Las Cruces, Office of Management & Budget
  • City of Las Cruces, Community Development Department
  • Community Action Agency of Southern NM/CAASNM
  • Dona Ana County Detention Center
  • Forensic Intervention Consortium of Dona Ana County
  • Institute for Community Engagement
  • NM EDGE/NM Certified Public Manager’s Program

General Procedures Governing MPA Internships:

It is assumed that the internship experiences of students will vary according to the particular field setting. However, there are two general expectations which are universal to any placement. The first is that the intern is to be treated and regarded by the sponsoring agency as an “employed” staff member. This means the intern is expected to implement agency policies and to abide by agency rules and regulations. Among these responsibilities is that of protecting all confidential information which an intern encounters by virtue of his or her status in the agency.

The total time that an intern should work at the agency will depend on the tasks to be completed, though it is essential that a pre-service student be given ample opportunity to have structured time at the agency. As a rough guide it is expected that an intern will log approximately 150 hours in order to earn three academic credits of GOVT 510. This translates into 10 hours a week for 15 weeks during a regular semester (fall and spring). Adjustments are necessary during the summer and/or depending on the nature of the internship.

The success or failure of an internship rests primarily with the student. It begins by recognizing that the student is ultimately responsible for identifying an acceptable placement according to the aforementioned criteria. Equally important, however, is what happens during and at the completion of the internship. The student has obligations at all three stages.

Prior to the Internship

A student must have completed at least 18 credit hours in the MPA program prior to setting up an internship and enrolling in GOVT 510. This must include at least 9 credit hours of MPA “core” requirements, though it is highly recommended that pre-service students complete most, if not all, of the core before embarking on an internship. The MPA Director or a potential internship advisor has the authority to reject a proposal if it is believed that the student does not have the requisite coursework or skills.

A student must adhere to the following procedures before starting an internship and enrolling in GOVT 510:

  1. Discuss various placement options with the MPA Director and/or members of the MPA faculty, including self-identified internships.
  2. Arrange for a meeting, either face-to-face or by conference call, with the prospective host agency. This meeting should be attended by the student, a faculty advisor selected by the student, the MPA Director, and the prospective internship supervisor. The host agency may require the presence of other personnel as well. Prior to this meeting, it is the responsibility of the student to provide a copy of this document to the prospective supervisor. The purpose of this meeting is to delineate the parameters of the internship from the perspective of the participants to generate a list of desired and compatible goals, objectives and activities.
  3. Prepare an “Internship Contract” according to the guidelines found in Appendix A and submit to the advisor for review and approval. The content of this contract will reflect, in large measure, the meeting discussed above.
  4. Obtain the agency supervisor’s signature on the contract and submit it to the MPA Director for final approval. The MPA program will keep the original on file and distribute copies to each signer.

During the Internship

In addition to assigned work duties, the student has other obligations during the course of the internship.

  1. The student is expected to act professionally at all times. The student is acting not only as an employee of the sponsoring agency but also as a representative of the MPA program. As such, the student is expected to abide by the rules of the agency and maintain the professional and ethical standards expected of all MPA students.
  2. The student is to maintain what is sometimes called an Administrative Journal or Diary, representing a running account of the student’s experiences (and hours worked) as an intern. The journal is meant to aid the student at s/he is completing the internship requirements as explained in the next section. A copy is to be submitted to the advisor at the end of the internship, though it is not graded.
  3. The student should meet regularly with the agency supervisor to review progress towards completing assignments.
  4. The student should report to, and if possible meet with, the advisor regularly on progress towards completion of the internship.
  5. The student needs to ensure that the supervisor completes and submits the interim (Appendix B) and final (Appendix C) evaluation reports to the advisor. The interim evaluation should take place somewhere around the mid-point of the internship, while the final evaluation should be completed right at the end but submitted to the advisor before the submission of a final internship grade. The supervisor is encouraged to discuss both evaluations with the intern.
  6. The student should report any problems with the internship immediately to the advisor and/or MPA Director.

On Completion of the Internship

The student is required to submit two different papers in duplicate to the faculty advisor according to a mutually agreed upon deadline as stipulated in the Internship Contract. The first paper, called an Experiential Activity Report, should address in detail the intern’s duties/responsibilities, activities completed, and progress in accomplishing internship objectives. Copies of any reports, memos, presentations, etc. that were created as part of the internship are to be attached. There is no particular page length that is required but the report should be as complete and thorough as possible.

The second paper is an analytical research paper of substantial depth, demonstrating the overall relationship among the (1) instructional components of the program, (2) theoretical elements of the field of public administration, and (3) the actual experiences of the student as an intern. See Appendix D for more information about the preparation of this paper. The intern’s administrative journal should be attached to this second paper.

These two papers, along with the supervisor’s final evaluation of the intern, will be used to determine the final grade for the internship. Internships are graded as being either satisfactory (S) or unsatisfactory (U). Incomplete grades (I) are strongly discouraged but may be necessary in light of the circumstances surrounding a particular placement.

Lastly, a student should expect that the internship will be covered at two additional junctures during his or her studies. The first is when the student enrolls in GOVT 519, the capstone course for students selecting the internship option in the MPA program. The second time will be as part of a student’s final oral examination. The student will be asked to make a short oral presentation summarizing the internship for the committee, and s/he should be prepared to answer questions regarding the internship.