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Grant to Calvin to Boost Internships
August 7, 2006

Calvin College has received a four-year, $250,000 grant from the Detroit-based McGregor Fund to create a new internship program.

The Comenius Scholars Program, named for a 16th century educational reformer, will provide Calvin students from a whole array of disciplines with internships in local nonprofit organizations.

“The college is approached by many nonprofits wanting student interns,” says Kurt Schaefer, a Calvin economics professor who will direct the new program.

The Comenius Scholars program will partner with Calvin's Office of Career Development where Beth Cok and Laurie Lemmen will coordinate Comenius Scholar internship placements in local nonprofit internships.

Glenn Triezenberg, director of Career Services for the college, says he welcomes the addition of the McGregor funding, noting that he has seen his internship operation grow from eight student intern placements per year six years ago to over 500 students placed last year in local, regional and national internship sites.

He says several of Calvin’s larger academic departments such as English, engineering, and business already support successful internships programs.

The Comenius Scholars Program, while open to undergraduates from any field of study, will especially benefit students from smaller programs.

Says Schaefer: "In a small department, a student may find an individual professor to supervise an internship, but it’s hard for a whole department to get an internship program together. And it’s more beneficial for the college to have one unified internship program than to have several internship programs trying to duplicate each other."

Students who qualify for the Comenius program will be placed in internships at local nonprofit such as schools, museums, churches, tutoring services, clinics and more.

In the first year of the internship the Calvin program will provide 75 percent of the student’s wages, with the nonprofit providing the remaining 25 percent.

“If the employer has a financial stake in the intern, it’s more likely they’ll have a high-quality work experience for the student,” Schaefer explains.

In the ensuing years of the internship the nonprofit will be expected to absorb an increasing share of the student’s wages. This arrangement will enable nonprofits to develop long-term internship opportunities while allowing the college to sustain the Comenius program beyond the time the grant expires.

In exceptional cases, says Schaefer, such as when a nonprofit can offer an excellent internship but no funds, the grant will cover the full cost of the intern.

Students placed in Comenius internships will also attend a seminar sponsored by the program.

“In general, it’s like MBA boot camp for liberal arts students," says Schaefer. "It will teach the students business skills, and allow them to reflect on their internship experiences and the concept of personal vocation. We’ll do something of high enough quality that employees of our partner nonprofits might want to attend too."

In its second year, the Comenius program will absorb Calvin’s existing federal work-study program, now run through the college’s service-learning center.

“That will give the work study students a seminar in which they’ll be trained, and also an oversight system of faculty members to work under,” Schaefer says.

He adds that the program is thinking about innovative ways to structure internships, including creating teams of interns, each working in a specialized area such as communication, human resources or Web services in one nonprofit.

“They’d be like small consulting firms,’ Schaefer says of this possible model.

He is enthusiastic about the benefits of a professional internship, saying that in addition to developing a student’s professional credentials, professional networks and sense of calling, it also develops a student’s character.

“It’s a “virtues lab,” allowing the student to work on a team with other people, respecting others gifts and opinions,” Schaefer says. “Developing virtues is the kind of process that requires lab work.”

The program’s namesake would approve. Comenius, a Czech-born teacher, scientist, writer and education reformer, completely revamped the educational systems of Sweden and England. He was a pioneer of experiential education.

“He’s the Mister Rogers of the 16th Century,” Schaefer said. “He makes a case that practical experience needs to come hand in hand with a traditional classical education to form a well-rounded liberally educated person.”

~written by communications and marketing staff writer Myrna Anderson