Information for Internship Agencies

The information provided below is designed to answer any questions an agency may have about the Urban Studies internship program. It is also available here as a printable Fact sheet.

What is the purpose of the Fieldwork internship?

The internship gives students an opportunity to see the connections between theory (what they have been learning in their classes) and practice by working closely with a community group, public agency, non-profit or private organization. The experience grounds students' academic learning and helps them clarify their interests and career directions. In our surveys of Urban Studies graduates, we ask them to list courses which have proven important to them in their current careers. They almost always cite the fieldwork internship as one of the most important parts of their undergraduate experience. 

How do students choose sites?

Students choose a fieldwork site either because they are considering a career in the field or because they are interested in the substance of what the organization does and want to clarify their interests, professional goals, or possible area of graduate study. The Urban Studies Program maintains a resource guide listing various Philadelphia agencies that may be interested in hosting student interns. Agencies request to have their information included in this database by completing a form provided by the Urban Studies office. Students are not limited to the agencies listed in the database, however, and may choose any area site that interests them.

What kinds of assignments do students do for the fieldwork class?

We expect students to be self-conscious about what they are learning through their internship and to be able to articulate and demonstrate their learning. They develop a learning plan with specific goals, which they continue to revise through the internship. Their grade for the course is based on a series of written and oral assignments.  Students write up two of the goals from their plan that best demonstrate what they learned in the internship. Other assignments include an ethnography, organizational analysis, and academic or policy essay. Students are encouraged to keep a journal, which they can draw on for their written assignments. Each student makes a presentation on one of their learning plan goals to the whole class at the end of the semester.  Discussions and presentations are confidential within the class.

What kinds of activities do we envision interns doing in the sites?

Students should become involved in the substance of the organization's work. Successful models include assisting a particular staff member in all aspects of his/her work or working on a project that crosses departments and roles within the organization. Interns can provide needed help to assist with ongoing or new projects related to the organization's mission. From time to time, the intern may want to interview various staff members or even individuals from outside of the organization in order to do one of the seminar assignments.  
We understand that sometimes you will expect interns to do routine work, as everyone in a workplace does, but such work should not be the primary focus of an intern's responsibilities.  

How are students' grades determined and what is the role of the supervisor? 

In reviewing students' written assignments, we are looking for students to show they understand the organization's mission, how it operates, and its role within a larger context. In the final portfolios, we like to see: 1) demonstration of progress or development over time, 2) ability to articulate and attain specific goals, 3) demonstration of the link between learning in the internship experience and academic theory or analysis, and 4) demonstration of an understanding of the organization, its workings and historical and institutional context.  

The internship supervisor contributes to assessing a student in two ways. The internship supervisor plays a role in the student's grade by creating good learning opportunities for students. The richness of the internship experience is reflected in the quality of the essays students hand in.  At the end of the term, the supervisor is asked to provide feedback to the Urban Studies instructor by evaluating the student intern's work. The instructor takes this supervisor evaluation into consideration when determining the student's final course grade.

Why are student intern positions not paid?

Urban Studies majors and minors receive 2 units of academic credit for their participation in the required course. This course has two components: 1) A 14-15 hour per week internship (during the period we are doing remote learning, the requirement is 10 hours/week) and 2) attendance and participation in a weekly seminar. The policy of the university is that educational activities students undertake for which they earn academic credit, such as the internship, should not be paid. This policy echoes federal Department of Labor guidelines on unpaid internships. Although the agency receives some benefit from having an intern on site, that is outweighed by the learning experience of the student. From the Urban Studies Program's point of view, subsidies for transportation or other expenses that the student incurs in carrying out the internship are allowable.

Are agencies liable for student interns?

With regard to liability, the agency does not assume liability for the student doing an unpaid internship as part of a course they are taking. University legal counsel states that when an internship is an academic requirement (as is the case in the Urban Studies Program), Penn’s Office of Risk Management covers the student for liability. If necessary, that office would issue a certificate to satisfy an agency's human resources department on this point. 

If you have questions:

We would be happy to talk with you further if you have any questions or would like consultation on the internship. You can contact Elaine Simon, Urban Studies Co-Director, at or Vicky Karkov, Urban Studies Program Coordinator, at