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Importing Knowledge, Exporting Experience: The International Internships of the Hinckley Institute of Politics

Importing-knowledge-exporting-experienceIf there is one thing that sets higher education apart from what most students learn during their primary and high school education years, it’s the opportunity college presents to gain real world, hands-on experience. The Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Office for Global Engagement [OGE] offer some of the more impactful experiences available at the University of Utah through their international internship program.

“The mission of the Hinckley Institute is to promote civic engagement and discussion of politics and current affairs while getting the community involved in those discussions and getting students directly involved,” said Courtney McBeth, Director of Global Internships and Associate Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics. “We offer internships that include everything from businesses in Brazil, to humanitarian organizations in Central and South America, to the oldest lobbying firm in Mexico City. We work with several non-profits in India and South-East Asia. In Europe we work with the Scottish Parliament, the British Parliament, the European Parliament, think tanks in Brussels, the Mayor of Nice’s Office.  We we work with the Australian Parliament as well.”

McBeth has worked with the institute, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, for 13 years.

The Hinckley Institute of Politics offers close to 400 internships every year. These internships include opportunities such as local internships in Utah where students help to staff the state legislature, and close to 100 students a year who go to Washington D.C. where they have a internships can include the White House, to the Supreme Court, lobbying shops and more.

In addition to its extensive international and domestic internship programs, the institute hosts more than 100 Hinckley forums every year. The forums, which are held directly on the University of Utah campus and are open to student, staff and faculty attendance, are designed to bring American and international delegates, representatives and more to give talks on varying topics regarding civic engagement and politics.

“These forums can include anyone from Mitt Romney, to Malcolm Gladwell, to professors, or ambassadors who come to speak at the Hinckley Institute,” McBeth said. “Those talks are recorded and put online. We also partner with the local KUER and KCPW radio so that many of the talks are also broadcast on the radio.”

A popular component of the Institute’s internship program is its international internship offerings.

“We’ll be offering close to 60 internships just over the course of the summer, which is our largest [summer participation] ever. That’s very large when you consider that we are setting up individual locations,” McBeth said. “My estimate is that we will have students in about 25 different countries this summer alone.”

The Hinckley Institute’s website offers a map that shows all of the available international internship locations. Students who are interested in pursuing an international internship can meet with the staff of the institute, including McBeth, to go over their options.

“We have internships all across the globe, and we essentially developed these internships over the last six or seven years based on where we have alumni and connections,” McBeth said. “Many universities just use private companies to set up their internships, which means their students have to pay around $10,000 to $15,000 to do an internship, but we’ve developed many of our internships in house, through Hinckley Institute connections.”

An example McBeth gives is the eight students who worked on campaigns for British Parliament members spread across London, Cardiff and Manchester. The students were trained for their internships over the course of the Fall 2014 semester and began working directly on the Parliament campaigns in January 2015, where they continued with the hands on experience until election day on May 8, 2015.

“Across all of our internships we have a common thread of some sort of government, public, or community service based involvement which goes back to our primary mission,” McBeth said.

As for the process of getting involved with the various internship programs, McBeth said that students can easily get involved as early as their first or second year, but that it is best for them to work up to an international internship over the course of their undergraduate career.

The local internships are usually where the Institute starts students during their freshman and sophomore years. Most of these internships are pursued part-time while the students are still attending school. They are designed for students who may have never done an internship and start at a minimum 2.5 GPA requirement.

“By comparison, our Washington D.C. internship is extremely competitive,” McBeth said. She explained that the majority of students competing for one of the available D.C. internships averaged around a 3.87 GPA over the course of last summer.

“Our international internships can be a very interesting mix. Most of the participating students have over a 3.0 GPA, and have done previous internships or had a previous international experience through Learning Abroad, an LDS mission, a humanitarian trip, or something else,” McBeth said. “Prior international experience is very important and a lot of them have already done a Hinckley internship with us. They know how to do an internship and what that’s like. This helps so that when they do an international internship they already have a certain skill set and amount of experience so that when they get into an international environment they can still thrive.”

Students who participate in the international internships through the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Office for Global Engagement gain a significant amount of experience that ordinarily would not be available in a traditional classroom environment.

“The benefits students gain from these internships are huge. I actually did my graduate work, surveying former Hinckley interns, and the majority of them say that their Hinckley internship was the most important part of their undergraduate degree. I would say, anecdotally, that would be the case across the board for our international interns as well,” McBeth said. “The benefits they gain include increased international competency, the ability to adapt to a new environment, the opportunity to learn or perfect a language, learning how to work in a cross-cultural environment and more.”

The benefits students gain from their time working in an international environment extend beyond the learning environment of higher education as well according to McBeth.

“On the professional side of things, students who work on something like an internship with the European Parliament benefits them when they are applying for that competitive job in New York and going up against 500 other applicants. That internship is what gets them from the stack of 500 to the top 50 applicants and an interview,” McBeth said.

The work each student participates in during their internships can vary greatly depending on their field and what office from which their internship is based. For example, a marketing student might be tasked with helping to completely revamp the marketing of a non-profit organization, where they are tasked with re-designing their logo, their website layout, or assisting with the organization’s social media presence and strategy.

The key similarity between all of the internship opportunities, regardless of their field or office, is that all of them involve actively engaging in real work within a professional environment.

Importing-knowledge-exporting-experienceOne of the key partnerships that takes place between the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Office for Global Engagement takes place through one of the OGE’s partner offices, Learning Abroad. According to McBeth one of the best ways for students to prepare for an international internship is to pursue one of the international study opportunities offered through the Learning Abroad program.

“The goal is to get students to think about doing multiple international experiences when they come to the University of Utah. We ideally would love them to do the Learning Abroad program to Kiel, Germany, for example, and then once they have acquired the language and have that experience, in their junior or senior year I could then send them to intern with the German Parliament,” McBeth said. “Beth Laux [Director of the Learning Abroad program] and I work closely together to try and set this path with the Learning Abroad program being an important part of the internship program as well.”

Since the programs induction in 2008, the Hinckley Institute has sent more than 500 students to 58 countries.

On average, each year the Hinckley Institute offers between $70,000 to $100,000 in scholarships to students specifically doing international scholarships. McBeth said that the majority of the scholarship funds are spread among as many students as possible rather than giving large sums to individual students. This helps get as many students abroad as possible.

“One of the most exciting things about the international internship program is to see where the alumni of our program are now,” McBeth said.

McBeth gave a number of examples of students who had participated in international internships through the Hinckley Institute including a student who interned in the Australian Parliament and has since stayed there and worked in various departments there. Another student worked at the Scottish Parliament, met her future husband there and now lives in Scotland and works for a prominent member of the Scottish Parliament. Lastly, she talked about a student who interned for Azul Airlines in Brazil five years ago and has worked his way up to head the content department that produces the television material for the planes across the entire airline.

“I could go on and on with similar stories, but it just goes to show that doing these internships have opened up the doors for these students to go and work abroad permanently, and provides new avenues for them,” McBeth said. “Historically if students wanted to work abroad they would look at the State Department or the Foreign Service to work for the U.S. government abroad, but through these internships students are making connections at all different levels and dozens of our students have stayed abroad and are now working internationally because they did an internship abroad.”