Interrogating Course-Related Public Interest Internships in Communications

  • Sandra Smeltzer Western University
Keywords: Internships, communications, public good, activism, service learning


This article examines the benefits and drawbacks of for-credit, unpaid internships geared towards the public good. Attention is focused specifically on communication internships with non- governmental, non-profit, and community-based organizations. Drawing on a series of semi-structured interviews with students, staff, faculty, and host organizations, the author advances a critical model of service learning that more fully recognizes the labour of community partners and encourages students to consider what role they can and should play in advancing the public good. The article also highlights two key issues vis-à-vis public interest internships that are of particular relevance to the field of communications. The first is a disconnect between, on the one hand, communications as a theoretical field of study and, on the other hand, the skills communication students are typically expected to bring with them into their placements. The second is a growing tension between what different members of the university community expect out of public interest internships: politically safe forms of community engagement palatable to university administrations versus more activist-oriented placements with organizations and movements that contest structures of control both on and off campus. The author contends that communication programs must critically reflect upon how politically benign and/or contentious internships support their pedagogical goals and what resources need to be in place to meet the- se objectives.


Author Biography

Sandra Smeltzer, Western University

With a background in Anthropology, International Development, and Political Economy of Communication, Dr. Smeltzer's primary areas of research and publication include the scholar-activist dialectic, communication in transitioning and developing countries, the ethics of activist research, and ICTs for social justice. Dr. Smeltzer is a Teaching Fellow (2015-2018) at Western University with a focus on international critical service learning. She has been awarded the USC Teaching Honour Roll Award of Excellence for every year she has taught at Western University and is the recipient of the FIMS Undergraduate Teaching Award. Dr. Smeltzer was awarded Western's inaugural Humanitarian Award for her international work, named one of Canada's Top 25 Most Influential Women by Women of Influ- ence Magazine and one of Western’s Top Newsmakers, and is profiled in the Winter 2014 issue of the philanthropy magazine, Lifestyles.


Interrogating Internships: Internships and Higher Education