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Defining The Immediate Learning Outcomes Of An Undergraduate Internship Program

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Outcomes of Cooperative Education Assignments

Tagged Division

Cooperative & Experiential Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.403.1 - 14.403.7

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Paper Authors

author page

Bryan Dansberry University of Cincinnati

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Capturing immediate learning outcomes of undergraduate internships: NASA’s Undergraduate Student Research Project Abstract

Government internship and co-op programs fluctuate greatly in size and scope from year-to-year. A major source of this instability comes from volatility in the administrative priorities set at the highest levels of these agencies. In the face of rapidly shifting administrative priorities, it is essential that experiential program managers capture data defining the full value of outcomes produced by their programs to the benefit of their organizations.

In 2008, the Undergraduate Student Research Project, NASA’s largest agency-wide internship program, revised its student and mentor evaluations, gathering new data on outcomes whose value had not previously been captured. This paper presents a preliminary discussion of the data collected through these new survey instruments. It includes data connecting the learning produced to many of the ABET a-k demonstrated abilities criteria as well as data on the changes in professional self-image, confidence, and commitment to career path. In addition, implications of the metrics which can be calculated from the raw data are discussed in regards to the value placed on that learning by the student participants.


When viewed from the broadest employer perspective, full-immersion experiential programs such as internships or co-op generate positive outcomes in three general areas:

1. student competencies (learning) 2. useful productivity (task completion) 3. retention into the workforce (graduation, advanced degrees, employment)

Traditionally, metrics collected for NASA internships focused solely on retention outcomes. Retention data requires longitudinal tracking of student alumni to determine graduation rates, career choices, and employment history. While important, capturing this information requires a high level of effort often beyond that available to experiential program managers in government organizations. Additionally, retention outcomes require years to emerge as students complete their undergraduate degrees, decide whether or not to pursue graduate programs, and finally enter the workforce. Because of this long time-lag between participation in the experiential program and eventual hiring into the workforce, retention data can be a poor tool for government program managers looking to implement continuous improvements to their programs in the short term. Moreover, retention data alone often does not carry the weight necessary to defend experiential programs from budget cuts in times of fiscal “belt-tightening.” When budgets are tight, financial decisions are made more on the basis of immediate impact as opposed to long- term benefits.

Outcomes in the areas of student learning and productivity hold the promise of providing more immediate information to program managers in monitoring the rigor and challenge of student experiences, maximizing the quality of the selection process in matching specific students to

Dansberry, B. (2009, June), Defining The Immediate Learning Outcomes Of An Undergraduate Internship Program Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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