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Work in Progress: Examining the Literature on Virtual Internships for Insights Applicable to Engineers

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

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July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Cooperative and Experiential Education Division Technical Session 2

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Cooperative and Experiential Education

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Kristen Koopman Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Kristen Koopman is a Ph.D. candidate in Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech. She is also the Graduate Assistant for Programs in the College of Engineering's Global Engineering Engagement and Research Office.

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Robert S. Emmett Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Emmett serves as Assistant Director for Global Engagement and Engineering Online Specialist in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. Dr. Emmett is a certified Project Management Professional and since 2018 has supported strategic global and online initiatives in engineering, including developing online modules to train global engineering competencies.

He is the author of the books Cultivating Environmental Justice: A Literary History of US Garden Writing (University of Massachusetts Press, 2016) and with David E. Nye, Environmental Humanities: A Critical Introduction (MIT Press, 2017). With Gregg Mitman and Marco Armiero, he edited the collection of critical reflections and works of art, Future Remains: A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Anthropocene (University of Chicago, 2018). His humanities scholarship has appeared in the journals Environmental Humanities, Resilience and elsewhere From 2013-2015, Dr. Emmett served as Director of Academic Programs at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, Germany. He has taught interdisciplinary courses at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich.

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Nicole P. Sanderlin Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Sanderlin serves as the Director of Global Engagement for Virginia Tech's College of Engineering. She provides leadership for international initiatives and works closely with engineering faculty to develop new institutional partnerships and international opportunities for engineering students. Her research focuses on internationalization of higher education, faculty engagement, and international program assessment.

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Internships are undertaken by roughly half of U.S. engineering students nationally and are widely thought to benefit engineering students in a variety of ways, strengthening students’ academic self-concept and increasing their persistence in engineering [1, 2, 3]. However, the emergence of COVID-19 in 2020 caused an unprecedented shift in the structure of internships as we know them, with approximately 83% of employers moving internships to a virtual work space [4]. While literature exists on in-person co-ops and internships [5, 6, 7], relatively little exists on engineering internships held virtually [8]. This Work-in-Progress paper collects literature on virtual internships across disciplines to find best practices that can be applied to virtual engineering internships. Our initial review has found four emphases: the relationship between virtual internships and curricula; interpersonal aspects of virtual internships; how virtual internships differ from in-person internships; and best practices in virtual internships.

This literature review is the first step in an ongoing research-to-practice project to understand and improve virtual internship experiences for engineering students. It aims to establish a baseline for understanding how virtual engineering internships can best achieve their intended goals, both in terms of advancing individual student careers and supporting institutional goals of access, equity, retention and identity formation in engineering. Informed by the literature, our research phase will gather empirical data in surveys and focus groups with students who took part in virtual internships beginning in summer 2020. Our tentative research questions explore the institutional structures, skills and outcomes, and expectations distinctive to virtual engineering internships. Our first phase will focus on the student experience:

How do virtual internships differ from in-person internships for students? How do learning outcomes and skills needed to be successful differ between internships held in-person and virtually? How did student expectations for engineering internships change for the virtual format?

Universities may consider coordination of internships for students a key “structure of opportunity” for retention and access [5]. As employers reassess remote work options in the wake of the pandemic, establishing quality measures specific to virtual internships has relevance to employers, educators and students alike.

Reference List [1] K. Powers, H. L. Chen, K. V. Prasad, S. K, Gilmartin, and S. Sheppard, “Exploring how engineering internships and undergraduate research experiences inform and influence college students’ career decisions and future plans,” ASEE Ann. Conf. & Expo. Proc., June 2018, doi: 10.18260/1-2--30491. [2] S. Sheppard et al., “Exploring the engineering student experience,” Center for the Advancement for Engineering Education, Seattle, WA, 2010. [3] Committee on Understanding the Engineering Education-Workforce Continuum and National Academy of Engineering, Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2018 [4] National Association of Colleges and Employers. “Coronavirus quick poll,” (April 2020 Quick Poll Results). May 1, 2020. Accessed: Oct. 8, 2020, from [5] M. K. Eagan, Jr., S. Hurtado, and M. J. Chang, “What matters in STEM: institutional contexts that influence bachelor’s degree completion rates,” at ASHE Ann. Mtng, Indianapolis, IN, USA, 2010. [6] T. Baber and N. Fortenberry, “The academic value of cooperative education: a literature review,” in 2008 ASEE Ann. Conf. & Expo. Proc., Jun. 2008, doi: 10.18260/1-2--3148. [7] A. J. Jaeger, M. K. Eagan, Jr., and L. G. Wirt, “Retaining students in science, math, and engineering majors: Rediscovering Cooperative Education,” Journal of Cooperative Education and Internship, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 20–32, 2008. [8] D. Jeske and C. M. Axtell, “The nature of relationships in e-Internships: a matter of the psychological contract, communication and relational investment,” Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 113–121, 2018.

Koopman, K., & Emmett, R. S., & Sanderlin, N. P. (2021, July), Work in Progress: Examining the Literature on Virtual Internships for Insights Applicable to Engineers Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2021 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015