Internship Practices in Family Studies Programs

By Ballard, Sharon M.; Carroll, Elizabeth B. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Internship Practices in Family Studies Programs


Ballard, Sharon M., Carroll, Elizabeth B., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


This study explored internship practices in family studies programs in the United States. Specifically, procedures, supervision, purpose, benefits, integration with coursework, and evaluation were examined. Data were collected via a questionnaire e-mailed to universities and colleges with undergraduate family studies programs (N = 68). Although all responding programs offered internships, there was considerable variation in the structure. Application of theory to practice, and personal growth and development emerged as the highest ranked benefits of internships.

Internships, long a tradition in university family and consumer sciences (FCS) programs, are an important vehicle for preparing new professionals. Family studies programs focus specifically on the study of families and, like other areas of FCS, often include internship experiences. Although increasing attention has been given to family studies internships, considerable diversity exists in the structure of these experiences (Smart & Berke, 2004) and limited research has been devoted to the topic. The purpose of this study was to examine undergraduate internship practices in family studies programs in the U. S.

Internship has been defined as "direct involvement in nonclassroom settings, sponsored by an institution of higher education, and jointly and cooperatively supervised by agency and university personnel" (Pataniczek & Johansen, 1983, p. 15). This broad definition conveys little about the depth and breadth of internship experiences. There is a lack of consistency in student requirements and terminology (e.g., field experience, practicum) used to describe them as well as in department names. Data from this study (N = 68) yielded 31 different department names, with family and consumer sciences (n = 20) being the most popular. The variety of names used by departments contributes to the identity problem within the family studies discipline (Ganong, Coleman, & Demo, 1995). A clear identity with some consistency among family studies programs is important because limited recognition of the family studies degree and lack of accreditation or credentialing may lead to varying levels of preparation and may limit the transferability of the degree (Ponzetti, 1995).

Despite this lack of consistency, there is agreement that internships are an important component of undergraduate family studies programs and that they benefit students as well as employers and universities (Bell & Haley, 1995; Davis, Steen, & Rubin, 1987; Eyler, 1995; Giles, 1990). Internships may facilitate career maturity and contribute to the development of lifelong learning skills by helping students apply classroom learning. Additionally, relevant work experience gives credibility to the student's degree in family studies, a field that may be less well understood than social work or psychology (Lofquist, Pasley, Yang, & Kreutzer, 1995).

Montgomery (1999) challenged FCS professionals to engage in a dialogue about internships. She posed several questions regarding the purpose of internships, the relationship between classroom knowledge and real-world practice, and the role of onsite professionals. Smart and Berke's (2004) study, specific to family studies programs, asked questions of 29 programs relative to faculty benefits, internship structure, and standards for supervision. The study discussed here extends Smart and Berke's work by using a larger sampling frame and including some of the original questions posed by Montgomery. The specific research objectives involve these questions:

(a) What? Do university family studies programs offer undergraduate internship experiences and if so, what are the specific requirements?

(b) Why? What is the purpose of internships in family studies and what are the perceived benefits for students and faculty?

(c) How? How are internships evaluated for pedagogical effectiveness and how are they integrated into the academic program? …

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