One of the most effective ways for students in the Department of Political Science at Western Michigan University to get experience while in college is to intern in an office where people practice politics, policy making, law or international development. Internships provide valuable, hands-on experience that both give you an insight into a career path and provide you with an experiential component for your portfolio. In some cases, the Department of Political Science can assist you in finding an internship; in many others, you will have to do the investigative work yourself. In most cases, academic credit can be arranged (this must be arranged in advance). Acceptance to an internship is by no means automatic; in many ways, it's like applying for a job. Many internships require good academic performance and references.
Internships in Michigan
Our most extensive internship programs are in southwest Michigan and in Lansing. The latter, the Capital Internship program, has been underway for over a decade and has placed qualified interns in offices throughout the executive and legislative branches of Michigan government, as well as in the lobbying and non-profit sectors. In southwest Michigan, interns regularly serve in city and village managers' offices, in other local agencies, and in business development and nonprofit organizations.
These internships are very popular with students and the department has sponsored interns for more than 30 years. Some students are able to directly convert an internship into a job upon graduation, while others are able to continue in their internships throughout the summer. Internships are always a very good experience in regard to networking and on-the-job training.
Capital and local internship programs
An internship experience can be a highlight of your undergraduate education. The Department of Political Science sponsors two different internship programs in Michigan:
- The Capital Intern Program (in Lansing)
- A local intern program that is primarily based in southwestern Michigan
Examples of placements in Lansing have included work with elected officials in the House, the Senate, Governor’s Office, Supreme Court; departments including Attorney General, Civil Rights, Consumer and Industry Services, Education, Corrections, Community Health, National Resources, Treasury; some legislative placements have included House Democratic Policy Staff, House Republican Programs and Research, Legislative Research Division of the Legislative Service Bureau, Senate Majority Policy Office, House Fiscal Agency; lobbying firms such as Capitol Services Inc., Governmental Consultant Services Inc., Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan Education Association, Michigan Association of School Boards, Wiener Associates; research organizations such as the Citizen's Research Council of Michigan; consultants such as Sterling Corporation and Rossman Martin & Associates; and a number of nonprofit organizations.
Examples of local placements have included more than 400 different internships in 59 geographical locations, mostly in southwestern Michigan. The types of these internships can be categorized as placement with general management (38 cities and counties), elected officials, health and human services, administration of justice, offices at Western Michigan University, and miscellaneous local Kalamazoo internships such as the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, Housing Resources Incorporated, the Independent Business Association, the Kalamazoo Center for Independent Living, Planned Parenthood, United Auto Workers and the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
- You do not need to be a political science major to pursue an internship. However, preference is given first to political science majors, then to political science minors and then to any students who have taken at least 15 hours of political science credit by the semester before the internship would begin.
- A minimum grade point average of 2.5 is required or a 3.0 in 15 or more hours of political science classes. Most interns have a grade point average of over 3.0 but 2.5 can qualify you for the program.
- Not everyone who has 15 hours or more of political science classes and at least a 2.5 grade point average can obtain placement in an internship. Most internships are served during the spring semester though Dr. David Houghton. There is room for up to 25 interns. Internships can also be served during fall and summer sessions but students must initiate the internship on their own with individual faculty members. If you do not have a faculty advisor, stop by the political science office in 3302 Friedmann Hall and you will be directed to one.
- It is useful to think ahead about what you want to do after graduation and then to think about whether a placement in a professional setting would further your goals.
- To pursue the spring program, make an appointment to see Dr. Houghton by calling the political science office at (269) 387-5681, so that he can put your name on a list. Some students have their names put on this list up to two years before doing an internship. Do this as soon as possible; however, being on the list does not guarantee an internship.
- The spring program requires all day Tuesdays and Thursdays for the duration of the semester. Two mini-vans are available for 15 students to go to Lansing each spring. There is no cost to the intern for travel on these vehicles to Lansing. All other internships with Dr. Houghton require two days per week also. You will need to talk to other department members to get exact specifications as to their requirements if you seek to pursue an internship separate from the spring program.
- All of our internships have various writing assignments. The faculty member sponsoring the internship will specify the requirements.
- Have a resume available when you talk to a faculty member about an internship and state your goals on it.
- If your major is declared in political science and you want to do an internship in your major, talk to your major advisor about the types of intern experiences. You may be referred to Dr. Houghton or to some other member of the department to pursue the internship.
- All internships are for various numbers of credit hours that are determined by the number of hours worked in the placement. For example, in the spring program, four hours of credit are earned for completing two eight-hour days per week for the semester or roughly 240 contact hours. Written assignments are included as a part of the required work.
- You will not receive a letter grade for an internship. The evaluation is on a credit or no credit basis.
- The junior year is the best time to complete an internship. The 15 hour requirement for political science classes has usually been met by then and depending on the internship experience a student might want to pursue different courses in the senior year or complete a second internship in an entirely different area.
- If you have no idea of what you might want to do in an internship, think about the courses that you have had that most interested you. Follow that up with a general discussion with your advisor. Then make an appointment to see Dr. Houghton if you still are uncertain. He has been working with interns since 1978 and he will be able to help you sort out your best options.
- The intern program is affiliated with Lee Honors College. Since 1991, the Lee Honors College and the Department of Political Science have jointly worked together on the Lansing Capital Intern Program. If you are a member of the Lee Honors College you may be able to join our spring program without having had previous political science classes.
- Usually you do not get paid as an intern. Most offices are looking to give you an experience while you earn credit hours. However, each year some students at the end of the internship are offered a full-time job while some others are offered summer employment. Most interns seek to get job experience and they are not looking to get immediate employment.
- To make contact with the office that you hope to work in:
- Be accepted into the spring program or accepted by a faculty supervisor.
- Contact personnel in the office in which you seek to intern.
- In the spring program, Dr. Houghton will make all needed contacts and will arrange two to four interviews for you. The interviews are set up in a one day period for you. You then decide which office you prefer to work in. Additional interviews can be arranged if you do not find the right fit.
- The mini-vans to Lansing are available for the spring program only. Travel for other internships will be your responsibility.
- An internship is not required for credit in any of the majors or minors in the Department of Political Science, but it may be important to complete an internship. Each student has different goals. Participating in Mock Trial, Western Student Association, having a job and other factors might not make an internship a practical option. If you are very certain of your career path, an internship might not be needed. On the whole, an internship is recommended. You interview for your own internship. You ultimately decide what internship you will have; no faculty member makes the choice for you. Therefore, if the internship seems to fit your goals it is likely a good investment of your time.
- On the basis of two mail surveys conducted with former interns (in 1997 and in 2000), 100 percent stated that they would recommend the experience to new majors.
Kalamazoo and surrounding area
Placements include positions with city managers in 13 different cities, as well as various internships in assessment, personnel, planning and county development, purchasing, recreation, zoning and 23 other areas. There are also internships at the village, township, and county levels of government. You may also consider interning with an elected official, on a campaign, or in health and human services, or judicial placements.
These internships are based in Lansing. Many internships are available with state representatives and state senators; with all departments of state government including the departments of Civil Rights, Community Health, and Education; internships in the Governor's Office; in the judicial area; with legislative organizations including the House Democratic Policy staff, House Republicans Programs and Research, the House and Senate Fiscal Agencies, the Legislative Service Bureau, the Senate Majority Policy Office, and the Senate Democratic Caucus. A number of other state-level internships are available in the areas of lobbying, research, consultants and nonprofits.
Internships in Washington, D.C.
The Department of Political Science and the Lee Honors College are working very hard to place students in internships in Washington, D.C. There are more than 1,000 WMU graduates living and working in the Washington, D.C., area. The Western Herald provides profiles on a number of these former students. It is suggested that these profiles be consulted to get an idea of the great variety of possible internships and jobs in the D.C. area.
The Washington Center may be useful in informing you about different types of internships and jobs in Washington, D.C.
In Washington, D.C., WMU’s political science students have interned with the lobbying firm Kinghorn, Hillbert and Associates; National Milk Producers Association; U.S. representatives including Reps. Conyers, Ford, Hoekstra, Knollenberg, Levin, Siljander, Wolpe, and Wirth; and U.S. senators including Sens. Levin and Riegel.
Graduates of our political science program have worked for: Defenders of Wildlife; Office of the Inspector General; House Commerce Committee; Congressman Tom Feeney, of Florida, as chief of staff; SCM Associates, a fundraising consulting firm; AFL-CIO, the Association of Flight Attendants; Computer Sciences Corporation Federal Sector, on an FCC programming services contract; Berkshire Mortgage Finance, as vice president and loan originator; Department of State, as foreign service officer; Congressman Buck McKeon; Senator Christopher Dodd; and the American Jewish Committee.
Although not always easy to arrange, international internships are a rewarding and effective way to get international experience. International internships fall into two categories:
- Those that take place in another country.
- Those that take place with an organization devoted to some aspect of international affairs but which are based in the U.S. There are many of these.
Students have served in internships in the German Bundestag, German state parliaments and development NGOs in India and South Africa.