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Writing assignments for an internship course.

Presented at the 2006 ASABE Annual International Meeting, Portland, Ore., July 9-12, 2006. ASAB Paper No. 06068023

The importance and value of internship coursework completed as an integral part of engineering, engineering technology, and applied science curricula have long been recognized and documented. This has been reconfirmed by several recent studies published in the literature, examples of which follow. Boggs, Williams, Mattila, Kennedy, and Dewey (2004) discussed the many advantages to students and employers of the required internship course in the pavement option of the civil engineering major at Michigan Technological University. Rompelman and De Vrie (2002) evaluated the practical training (internship) requirement in the M.S. program in electrical engineering at Delft University of Technology and concluded that the predefined objectives of the course were being met to a large extent. Zissman (2005) interviewed both students and employers who participated in the Multiple Engineering Cooperative Program at Oregon State University and included in her article several positive testimonials from both groups concerning the two required internship experiences. Miller, Tarpley, Miller, Harrison, and Beard (2004) listed "develop and encourage awareness and interests through occupational experiences in agricultural careers" (p. 3) as one of several objectives supporting the stated goals of the Agricultural Systems Technology program in their case study of this program offered at Utah State University. The authors also indicated that a majority of the students in this program complete internships.

The importance and need of good communication skills for the success of graduates in engineering, engineering technology, and applied science programs have also long been recognized and documented along with evidence that graduates need improvement in their ability to communicate. This has also been reconfirmed by several recent studies published in the literature, examples of which follow. The Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (2005) included "an ability to communicate effectively" in the list of program outcomes (statements) that describe what students are expected to know and be able to do by the time of graduation in all three of the following publications: the Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs: 2006-2007 (p. 2), the Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Technology Programs: 2006-2007 (p. 5), and the Criteria for Accrediting Applied Science Programs: 2006-2007 (p. 1). Bohnhoff, Gunasekaran, Williams, and Rosentrater (2004) discussed the results of an industry focus group asked to rate (high, medium, or low) the importance of the eleven ABET outcomes required for engineering programs and how satisfied they were with the skills of recent graduates in Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in each of the areas. The authors concluded that communication was ranked as extremely important and that the participants were somewhat dissatisfied with the graduates' ability to effectively communicate. A report by an American Society of Civil Engineers task force (2001) included "poor communications skills" (p.16) in a list of areas in which entry-level and experienced engineers are perceived to be inadequate.

Many engineering department faculty who recognize the importance of good communications skills for graduates also realize that the responsibility of helping students develop essential communication skills can not be left solely to colleagues in English departments who teach basic writing and speech courses. Wells and Crofcheck (2005) reported that one of the outcomes for the engineering program in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Kentucky is "graduates must demonstrate effective interpersonal, formal, and technical communications skills whether oral or written" (p. 7) and listed the assessment instrument, goal, and standard for this educational outcome in terms of student performance in communication assignments in three advanced engineering courses. Ess and Strickland (2001) listed "an ability to demonstrate appropriate listening, speaking, writing, presentation, and interpersonal skills needed to interact and communicate effectively" (p. 7) as one of the outcomes for the Agricultural Systems Management program in the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department at Purdue University. The authors also stated that there is a major emphasis on communication skills (and problem solving) in this program and that the curriculum is designed to address each outcome area through a coherent set of courses.

Given the value of internships and the importance of teaching communication skills in technical courses, incorporating writing assignments as an integral part of internship courses can be a win-win situation for students, faculty, and employers. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the two major writing assignments that the author requires in an internship course that he has taught for a number of years at The Ohio State University, Agricultural Technical Institute (OSU-ATI).

Internship Course

The value of work-related experiential learning in the form of internships has long been recognized at OSU-ATI, an associate degree granting school in the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. An internship course has been required for graduation for all students enrolled in A.A.S degree programs at OSU-ATI since its founding in 1972. Making the internship course an integral part of the curriculum has been a successful and positive experience for all involved.

To enroll in and receive credit for the internship, students must pay fees, find an appropriate employment opportunity (which must be approved by the course instructor), submit required internship forms to the instructor as due, work the required minimum number of hours performing duties as assigned by the employer, and complete other requirements as assigned by the instructor. The internship instructor serves in a coordinator role for the course. Responsibilities of this person include: assisting the student in finding internship employment, providing all forms and a student and employer course syllabus, visiting the intern and employer, and assigning the course grade. Responsibilities of the internship employer include: providing the intern with a variety of industry-related work experiences within the general context of the primary job assignment, conducting formal conferences with the intern on a regular basis, submitting employee evaluation forms, and meeting with the instructor during one or more on-site visits.

The author has at various periods in his career at OSU-ATI been responsible for the internship course for students enrolled in two engineering technology related programs--Construction Management and Power Equipment. He has recognized that the internship course provides an excellent opportunity to help students develop and improve the writing portion of their communications skills outside of traditional English courses. This is often referred to as writing-across-the-curriculum and is based on the concept that all teachers should 1) require students to use a variety of writing techniques and 2) help teach writing and thinking. As a proponent of integrating the teaching of communications skills into technical courses in general and writing-across-the-curriculum more specifically, the author includes two major writing assignments as an integral part of the internship course. Since both reflective and formal writing can be valuable and effective in helping students meet the educational objectives of the course and improve thinking and writing skills, the writing assignments consist of a journal and a term paper. These two requirements are discussed in more detail in the following sections.

Journals and Journal Writing

Journal writing is a type of reflective (expressive) writing with the purpose of finding out what the writer thinks, feels, and knows. Journals provide a written record of an individual's observations, experiences, and thoughts. Journals differ from and fall somewhere between 1) diaries, which are private, personal, and subjective, and 2) logs or class notes, which are objective recordings of information and data.

Journal writing is quite different from the formal writing typically required in educational and career settings which is undertaken for the purpose of communicating to a designated audience. Clearly, students need to master formal writing as applicable to their particular disciplines. However, journal writing is a powerful thinking and learning mechanism in its own right and can be an important part of the "mix" of writing techniques used to enhance communication and thinking skills.

Journal writing provides an excellent opportunity for students to practice writing and to get into the habit of writing. During the internship, the journal serves as a designated repository where students can record noteworthy activities and experiences on an informal basis. Journal writing also enables students to explore and express their thoughts and concerns during the internship, an important period in their lives. The emphasis on journal writing dictates that students will take a major, active, and personal role in the internship learning process. The journal writing assignment is also an excellent way to help students self-achieve internship course objectives.

Prior to starting their internship, students meet with the author in a special session during which they are given the course syllabus and a journal handout (Appendix A). The purpose, requirements, and grading of the journal are discussed in detail. Copies of a range of entries from journals submitted by students who have previously completed internship (used with their permission) are made available as examples for review during the session. The importance placed on the journal assignment is clearly reflected by that fact that the journal accounts for 20% of the course grade.

Journal entries are reviewed and discussed as part of the activities when students are visited at their internship site. Journals are then collected, read, and evaluated at the completion of the course. During this process, the author makes notes of important and interesting information gleaned from the journal content. Journals are returned to students during individually scheduled office conferences. In addition to sharing with students the overall evaluation of the journal, the author engages them in a two-way dialogue based on his notes of their journal content. These dialogues have turned out to be one of the most important and rewarding components of the internship course. Students appreciate and respond to the interest shown in their lives and internship experiences.

Term Paper

The term paper is written in a traditional, formal report format and serves as a public record and document of internship activities and experiences. This assignment is also discussed at length during the pre-internship session. Students are provided with a term paper handout (Appendix B) which is included as part of the syllabus. The purpose, requirements, and grading of the term paper are discussed in detail. Copies of several high-quality term papers submitted by students who have previously completed internship (used with their permission) are made available as examples for review during the session. Emphasis is placed on the fact that the term paper is a comprehensive and extensive writing assignment and will be evaluated based on 1) quality and quantity of content and 2) technical report writing criteria. Graded papers are returned to and discussed with students during the individually scheduled office conferences described in the journal section. The importance placed on the term paper assignment is clearly reflected by that fact that the term paper accounts for 35% of the course grade.


One of the ways that an internship differs from a simple work experience is the expectation that students think and learn about broader aspects of the organization, industry, and career area in which they are employed. The journal and term paper serve to guide students in this endeavor and are excellent vehicles for capturing what students have learned and their thoughts during and about the internship experience. College students are typically given little opportunity to engage in reflective (expressive) writing in their coursework. Requiring journals as part of internship allows students to experience the value and power of this type of informal writing in a practical, applied setting. Student feedback concerning the journal assignment has been very positive. Many students comment that they intend to make use of journals when they are employed in full-time career settings.

College students typically are required to write numerous term papers during their educational experience. Requiring a term paper as part of internship enables students to experience the value and power of this type of formal writing in a practical, applied setting. Most students rise to the challenge of this assignment and produce high-quality papers of which they are rightly proud.

The informal journal and the formal term paper provide an interconnected, tandem writing experience that helps students improve their communication and thinking skills and self-achieve internship course objectives. These two writing assignments also provide permanent records of the students' activities, experiences, and thoughts during the internship and will serve as valuable resources for students in their future lives and careers.


Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology. (2005). Criteria for accrediting applied science programs. Retrieved January 6, 2006, from

Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology. (2005). Criteria for accrediting engineering technology programs. Retrieved January 6, 2006, from

Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology. (2005). Criteria for accrediting undergraduate engineering programs. Retrieved January 6, 2006, from

American Society of Civil Engineers. (2001). Engineering the future of civil engineering. Report of the Task Committee on the First Professional Degree to the Executive Committee Board of Direction American Society of Civil Engineering. Reston, VA: ASCE

Boggs, J. W., Williams, R. C., Mattila, K. G., Kennedy, W. A., and Dewey, G. R. (2004). The pavement enterprise at Michigan Technological University. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 130(3),197-204.

Bohnhoff, D. R., Gunasekaran, S., Williams, G. D., and Rosentrater, K. A. (2004, August). An undergraduate engineering curriculum for agri-industrial facility designers. Paper 044176 presented at the meeting of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, Ottawa, ON.

Ess, D. R. and Strickland, R. M. (2001, July). Guidelines for developing an outcome-based ASM curriculum. Paper 018033 presented at the meeting of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, Sacramental, CA.

Miller, B. E., Tarpley, R. S., Miller, R. L., Harrison, J. D., and Beard. F. R. (2004, August). Outcome assessment: a case study of the agricultural systems technology program at Utah State University. Paper 048027 presented at the meeting of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, Ottawa, ON.

Rompelman, O. and De Vries, J. (2002). Practical training and internships in engineering education: educational goals and assessments. European Journal of Engineering Education, 27(2), 173-180.

Wells, L. G. and Crofcheck, C. L. (2005, July). Educational objectives and outcomes at the University of Kentucky: perspectives from a recently reviewed program. Paper 057059 presented at the meeting of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, Tampa, FL.

Zissman, M. (2005). Oregon schools produce work-ready grads. Consulting-Specifying Engineer, 37(1), 61-62.

Appendix A. Journal Handout for Internship

What Is a Journal?

A place to explore personal reflective (expressive) writing; to practice thinking and writing; to highlight your thoughts, activities, and educational experiences while on internship; and to record concepts and information as background material for the term paper.

A journal differs from a diary in that it should not be merely a personal recording of the day's events. It differs from your class notebook or a log in that it should not be merely an objective recording of data.

Diary ("I" subjective)

Journal ("I/it")

Class Notebook/Log ("it" objective)

What to Write

* New technical information acquired.

* Personal reactions to employment experiences, supervisor, fellow workers, clients, customers, and others.

* Informal notes, jottings, clippings, scraps of information.

* Exploration of ideas, theories, concepts, problems, paper topics.

* Reviews of articles, books, and T.V. shows related to industry.

* Descriptions of events, places, people, objects.

* Records of thought, feelings, moods, experiences.

* Whatever you want to explore or remember.

When to Write

Write in your journal at least four days during each week of work. (Note: this is the minimum requirement). It is important to develop the habit of using your journal even when you are not in an academic environment. Good ideas, questions, etc. don't always wait for convenient times for you to record them. Write:

* In the morning before work, at lunch break, in the evening: in other words, anytime appropriate.

* When you have problems to solve, decisions to make, confusions to clarify.

* When you need to practice or try something out.

How to Write

You should write however you feel like writing. The point is to think on paper without worrying about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. The quantity of what you write is as important as the quality. Use language that expresses your personal voice--language that comes natural to you. Take risks, write freely, "talk about it."

Specific Suggestions

* Purchase a small 5" x 8" looseleaf notebook.

* Divide your notebook into two sections: ACADEMIC (Required: all internship related entries) and PERSONAL (Optional: private reflections that you do not have to hand in).

* Title and date each entry (also include time and location).

* Write long entries as often as possible to help develop ideas fully.

* Make lots of entries; quantity is the best measure of a good journal.

* Use a pen (pencils smear).

* Write original entries only on the right page side. Use the left page side to record later reflections on or additions to the right page original entry. (Left-handers may want to use the reverse of this procedure.)


I will ask to see the academic section of your journal when I visit you on internship. I will read selected entries and make comments. The optional personal section will not be collected; however, feel free to share selected portions of this section with me if you desire.

None of my dialogue with you at this time will affect how much your journal is "worth." A good journal will be full of lots of long entries and reflect active, regular use. It will show your willingness to cooperate in the "spirit" of the journal activity.

Final Evaluation

At the end of the course:

* Put page numbers in your journal.

* Make a table of contents for the entries.

* Write an introduction to the journal.

* Write an evaluation of the journal's worth to you as the conclusion to the journal.

Hand in the journal (remove the personal section if you so desire) for the final evaluation when you hand in your internship term paper. All information contained in the journal is confidential.

Journals will be graded based on the following four parameters:

* Format, Introduction, and Conclusion.

* Number of Entries.

* Length of Entries.

* Topic Selection and Content of Entries.

Journals will be returned after evaluation during an individual meeting and discussion session in my office.

Appendix B. Term Paper Handout for Internship

At the end of the tenth week of internship, students are required to submit a completed term paper. The outline provided below is to be used with the understanding that some modifications may be necessary depending on the type of internship station and actual employment responsibilities and activities.

The term paper is to be complete and comprehensive. It is a major part of the internship grade and requires a considerable amount of time and effort. The length of good quality term papers is typically in the 18-20 page range. Pictures, diagrams, tables, etc. should be included where appropriate.

This is not an assignment to be taken lightly. Students are strongly advised to start working on their term papers no later than the time of the tenth day report. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE TO COMPLETE THIS ASSIGNMENT. The term paper will automatically be penalized one letter grade per week it is late.

The term paper will be graded based on grammar, spelling, following directions and the outline, neatness, completeness, and content. All term papers are required to be machine printed and double spaced. Students should address any questions concerning the paper to the course instructor prior to the internship. Failure to submit a term paper will result in the student automatically failing the course.

I. TITLE PAGE (Paper's Title, Course Number, Course Name, Student Name, Due Date, Date Submitted)

II. TABLE OF CONTENTS (A list of all major sections of the paper and their page numbers)

III. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS (A list of all diagrams, maps, photos, plans, etc., and their page numbers)


A. The Internship Station

1. Describe in detail your internship station. Include the following information about the company:

a. When and how the company was established

b. Number and names of owners

c. How the business is organized

d. Number of employees (seasonal and full time) and their job titles

e. Products sold and major services offered

f. Gross annual sales and growth pattern

g. Quality of products and services

h. Reputation in the market place

i. Strengths of the company

j. Weaknesses of the company

k. Recent or proposed changes in the business

l. Any other general information

2. Service Area Information

a. Obtain a map of the territory served by the internship station and mark those areas where the company does a majority of its work or has a majority of its customers.

b. Describe in detail the makeup of the company's service area. Include the following facts:

* Population trends and patterns

* Number of household units

* Average income levels of residents

* Occupations of residents

3. Describe in detail the internship company's competition. The focus may have to be on the major or serious competitors. For each competitor list the following information:

a. Name and number of years in business

b. Products sold and major services offered

c. Estimate of gross annual sales and growth pattern

d. Quality of products and services

e. Reputation in the market place

f. Strengths

g. Weaknesses

h. Recent or proposed changes in the business

Much of this information is available from the employer. Competition is healthy and knowing the competition is very important to the success of a business.

4. Obtain or draw plans and layouts of your internship station's property and buildings. Identify major functional areas on the property and within buildings.

5. Create a list of all major tools, equipment, and vehicles used by the company. After each item on the list write an estimated initial cost.

6. Selecting from various processes, procedures, operations, facilities, etc. at the internship station; choose several and indicate how these might be improved to increase efficiency and company performance. Provide specific information about how these changes could be implemented using illustrations where appropriate.

7. List the potential safety hazards that were observed while interning. Indicate what should be done to correct these hazards.

B. Student Employment Activities

1. List the various jobs performed while interning. Tell what percentage of the total time worked was spent doing each job or task.

2. Describe the specific job responsibilities that were assigned during the internship. What did you like best about your job responsibilities? Why? What did you not like about your job responsibilities? Why?

3. Take one major project that was worked on during internship and make a full detailed report on what, why, and how the project was done, its length, and the final result. Include blueprints or plans if appropriate. It is suggested that a series of photographs be included which depict the project from start to finish.


A. Discuss the internship jobs and activities which were:

1. The most enjoyable

2. Liked the least

3. The most challenging

4. The best learning experiences

B. Discuss the jobs for which you now feel qualified.

C. How would you evaluate this internship station as a training center for future students?

D. Final comments concerning this internship work experience.

Allen Zimmerman

is Professor,


Technology and

Technical Physics,

The Ohio State

University, Wooster

Campus, ATI,

Wooster, Ohio.
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Author:Zimmerman, Allen P.
Publication:ATEA Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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