New Webinar Series on Internship Research in 2020
Dr. Julia Freeland Fisher (Christensen Institute)
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
How Social Capital and Professional Networks Gained in College Internships Enhances Student Success
>> Matthew Hora: Thank you everybody for joining us on this week’s webinar from the Center for Research on College to Workforce Transitions at UW-Madison. My name is Matthew Hora, I’m the Director of CCWT. And today we’re honored to have as our guest, Julia Freeland Fisher from the Christiansen Institute. And before I introduce Julia, and we get talking about social networks and social capital and internships, just had a few announcements. These webinars they’re kind of in place of our canceled Fall Research Symposium, which unfortunately, but for obvious reasons, we won’t be holding. We may have a virtual, like half or three quarters day event that will be featuring a lot of the speakers that are featured on these webinars, but also some new data coming out about online internships. So, stay tuned for that.
The goal of these webinars really is to bring cutting edge thinking and research to a broader audience. Last week, our guest, Sean Rogers, he’s a management scholar from University of Rhode Island, and if you’re interested in seeing that webinar, the recording is up on our website. And we’ll also be speaking with people from sociology, management again, anthropology, and so there’s lots of people that normally wouldn’t be in conversation with one another. And so that’s what these webinars are about: trying to, you know, bring into one central meeting place just some new thoughts about internships and what the researchers are finding.
So next week, we’ll have Carrie Shandra from Stony Brook University. She’s going to talk about employer demand for internships. She’s a sociologist. On July the 1st, at 3:00 p.m. Central we’ll have Leopold Bayerlein from the University of New England in Australia. He’ll be speaking about tasks and design and online internships. And then, this is way ahead, in August on the 26th, we’ll have Julie Lucero from University of Nevada-Reno, and Crystal LoudHawk-Hedgepeth from The American Indian College Fund, and they’re going to talk about internships in tribal colleges and universities. So, fascinating lineup, and there’s a few other people, we’re just finalizing details about dates and times. But today we’re going to talk about social capital with Julia.
And before I introduce Julia, I just wanted to observe the fact that today is also Shut Down Academia Day. It’s for people in higher education to reflect on how to eradicate racism and anti-black violence. The conversation and the questions that we’re going to be having today, we’re going to be really centering the issue of discrimination and racism and opportunity, because it is central to this conversation of social capital. But if any of you have any questions throughout the chat about that or anything else, just go ahead and type it in there. And I’ll try to take a look and pose those questions to Julia.
So without further ado, Julia, I’ve got a great introduction from your website. And some of you will see why I’m so excited to talk to Julia because she’s got a fascinating perspective on internships and social capital and networks. Julia Freeland Fisher is the Director of Education Research at the Clayton Christensen Institute. She leads a team that educates policymakers and community leaders on the power of disruptive innovation in the K-12, and higher education spheres through its research. Her team aims to transform monolithic factory model education systems into student-centered designs that educate every student successfully and enable each to realize his or her fullest potential. Julia is the author of Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations That Expand Students Networks, that came out in 2018. And she has a Bachelor’s Degree from Princeton in a JD from Yale Law School. And one of the things that I’m super excited to talk with you, Julia, is when we’ve done some literature reviewing about who is studying social capital and social networks and internships, very little comes up, but your name comes up.
As we talk, one of the things I’d like you to keep in mind, Julia, but also everybody on this webinar, if you have thoughts or ideas about what researchers should be studying when it comes to social capital on social networks, in the world of internships, please share. And if anybody on the audience knows about good empirical research or conceptual pieces on social networks and internships, it’d be great if you could send that along. And we also have Carrie Shandra, our guest in next two weeks joining us from New York. So let’s get started. Julia, let’s start by talking about social capital. What is it and why is it important?
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Yeah, thank you for that lovely introduction, Matthew. I’m going to start with one thing before social capital, which is a disclaimer that I have a five month old and two dogs and a really noisy husband, so I apologize for all sorts of mammal noises in the background if you hear them. And second thing is, I sometimes called Matthew, Matt instead of Matthew, and I’m going to really — I have to say his name this morning, but I’m going to work really hard to say Matthew, but just a disclaimer around that. So thanks so much for having me.
What is social capital? Why does it matter? Social capital, at a very high level describes the notion that our social networks contain value, that they contain real value and real resources. And if you put that alongside concepts of human capital, what we know and can do in the labor market pays us to do, or financial capital: what we possess and can then buy. That said, given that I’m talking to a group of academics, you’re probably not surprised to know that within the Academy, there’s a lot of debate about the actual definition of what social capital is, and moreover, how we measure it. But I think for today’s conversation, and particularly thinking about what this means for young people, or really any learner who’s participating in a post-secondary institution or a workforce development program, and therefore engaging in work-based learning or internship-based learning, it’s important to think about social capital as not just a static asset, but access to an ability to mobilize relationships that can help students or learners further their goals. And that that may shift over time, so we can get into what that — what that sort of means.
Why this matters? You can look across education research at the value of relationships, you’d be hard pressed to find any educator who would say that relationships do not matter. But really, if you look at that research along the education pipeline at the end, when it comes to job getting, an estimated half of jobs come through personal connections. So social capital is really an asset in the opportunity equation. And part of the impetus for our research is to sort of put social capital alongside skills and competencies as a critical asset that we can nurture for students to set them up for success and to give them a wide range of options. So that’s sort of the quick primer on what it is and why it matters. I know there’s a lot of layers to that answer though.
>> Matthew Hora: Yeah, especially sociologists spend their entire careers talking about social capital, different forms of it and how it impacts people’s lives. Based on the available evidence do colleges and universities do a good job of fostering social capital for their students?
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Yeah, it’s a really good question. And I would say we know fairly little about this, because it’s not something that is necessarily getting measured in an organized or systematic way.
I want to take a step back. One of the researchers as I was sort of embarking on understanding this wide role in academia, social capital, one of the researchers that I really appreciate in the field is a guy named Mario Luis Small at Harvard University. He’s a sociologist there. And one of his contributions to the literature has been to point out that although a lot of sociology research, and even political science research, like what Robert Putnam has done on social capital, looks at networks at the level of the community or the neighborhood, we can also look at it at the level of the institution. And Mario Louis Small’s big finding in a book called Unanticipated Gains, or big contribution, was essentially that institutions are themselves brokers of social capital. But he makes an important distinction, which is that many institutions, in his case he was studying childcare centers in New York City, are what we — what he calls non-purposeful brokers. Meaning social capital is being created in the course of their day to day business, across parent networks, across educator networks, and with young people. But they haven’t necessarily purposefully designed their institution to be an effective or, much less, an equitable broker of social capital. So I think that’s a really helpful frame, at least for me, when we talk about colleges and post-secondary institutions, and frankly, employers as well, in this mix, of what would it look like to be a purposeful broker.
One data point that we can point to among slim but troubling data is a 2018 Strata Gallup poll of College Alumni, in which less than half of students reported having had a mentor in college who was helping them sort of pursue their passions and dreams. And the poll also revealed disturbing disparities by race and class. Minority students were 34% less likely to say having a professor as a mentor in college than their white counterparts. So that’s one tiny data point, right. That’s not the whole of social capital, but it tells us that, frankly, especially if it’s COVID-19, we’re hearing a lot of rhetoric about how hyper-connected campuses are, right? That’s actually a liability now going into this fall. But that contact is not necessarily the same as connection. So just because a physical campus is bringing students together, just because they’re piling into a large lecture hall doesn’t necessarily mean social capital is being brokered or built. And that’s where, hopefully we can talk, Matthew, about how you’re thinking about measurement in the internship space, but some of those measures could even be applicable to institution-wide attention paid to this asset group.
>> Matthew Hora: And once again, I have a list of questions here. But I think my interview protocols completely been exploded because you’ve brought up so many good topics to follow up on them. But that’s cool. That’s the way it should be. I’m really curious about this idea of a broker. You mentioned faculty and mentors within a college. Precisely how would they foster social capital for a student, like what precisely would they be giving them or providing to them that would benefit the student as they graduate and then go out into the world?
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Yeah, so maybe to back up a second. Matthew had asked a separate question when we were prepping for this that we didn’t get to between the difference between sort of a relationship or a network and social capital, right? Those terms sometimes blend together. And one distinction that I think is important for anyone interested in measuring social capital is the notion that you can possess connections to people and then social capital is the resources that those connections might offer you and vice versa. And so I say that because one of the things I get worried about, and this is more from a design and sort of reform lens than a measurement lens or a sort of academic research lens, is that it’s tempting to say in the immediate or in the next school year what are the resources that a professor or a staff member in a college could lend to a student? We could start measuring that, right? We could say what are the helping behaviors that those faculty or other staff are engaging in. What doors are they opening for their students by perhaps brokering introduction to introductions to potential employers, perhaps just giving information and advice, perhaps providing emotional support. All of those are sort of forms of these resources that we are alluding to when we say this term “social capital”.
But here’s what I also want to emphasize. It’s a little trickier from a measurement and research lens. Which is, relationships can also have lasting value that changes as a person’s circumstance or as a graduate’s circumstances change. So just to make this really concrete. Right now, Matthew and I are what sociologists would call like essentially weak ties, right. We’ve talked a couple of times, we have — we’ve emailed a couple of times, we don’t have a super high level of time spent together or necessarily trust built, although I actually trust him a lot because I’ve read a lot of his research and I’m a big fan. But we’re essentially weak ties, and yet I’m sitting here in front of you guys because of Matthew, because he offered me this opportunity. Now, I’m sitting in Maryland. If I were to move to Wisconsin tomorrow, I could call up Matthew and say, “I don’t know where to send my kid to daycare. Give me some information or broker some introductions to people who you know who are running daycare centers.” Suddenly, because my circumstances have changed, the potential value that Matthew could provide to me has also shifted.
And the reason why this is important, and I know this is so long winded, but I’m really passionate about this point is, that if we just use short term metrics of the immediate value a relationship can provide, we are likely underestimating some of the latent value that a relationship could provide down the line to a student. So maybe that faculty mentor is someone that a student could come back to ten years later. Maybe that student support staff or even peers that a student needs in college. The value of that relationship may not get realized till down the line. And I think that’s just thinking about resources in both real time but also against that time lag is a really important just mental model, when we talk about why this is important and the return on investment and in creating relationships having a potentially long tail. Does that make sense?
>> Matthew Hora: And it makes me think that, as we go about designing studies of social capital, within the world of internships, we should be thinking longitudinally, and not just, you know, the typical six months after graduation, right? You know the first destination surveys but thinking in the, you know, it’s going to be years where we may see some of these benefits manifest.
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Yeah, that was a way more concise way of saying my long-winded moving to Wisconsin example. But I think it’s — I think we sometimes forget about that even though many of us maybe from our lived experiences can think about the kind of ebb and flow of relationships often change in value as our circumstances change.
>> Matthew Hora: [Cut off audio 14:55] you and I and, you know, that’s a famous concept in sociology from Mark Granovetter. And let’s talk a little bit about, you know, the strength of weak ties. I know there’s been a lot more research on it, and it’s a bit of a contested idea. But you know in general, and the sociologists on this call, please correct me if I mangle this. But the idea is that sometimes the weak ties, like Julia and I have, can be some of the most influential. Because Julia has access to networks and information and resources within her world, especially up and down the East Coast that I have very little tie to. And so through this weak tie, I may have access to a whole universe of opportunities. A really strong tie, maybe my friend here in Madison, you know, that’s going to be an important network and access to resources, but it will be fundamentally different. Do you have anything to build on that, Julia, just you know the importance of weak ties when we think about students and college internships?
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. So I think a couple core principles and then a couple areas, I’ll actually refer back to Mario Louis Small’s research in this area where we can sort of problematize or poke holes in, when we call something a strong or a weak tie, given that those are really in some ways simplistic mental models, not hard truths.
So the sort of strength of weak ties argument, for those who aren’t as familiar with it, goes that Mark Granovetter found, studying people’s job contacts and job search experiences, that people are actually more likely to find a job through a weak tie connection than a strong tie connection. And part of the explanation under that is not just sort of like weak ties, bad, strong — weak ties are good and strong ties are bad. It’s that we actually can maintain more weak ties in our lives than strong ties, right? The bandwidth required to maintain a strong tie. My husband, god bless him, great person lends me all sorts of resources and care, very strong tie, also a very high-bandwidth relationship in my life, right? And you could only have so many of those. And so our weak ties are therefore more plentiful. They are also, to Matt’s point, potentially more structurally diverse. Meaning that they are, themselves, members of a wider variety of networks that can then bring more resources, information, opportunities to bear.
Now a couple other studies noted just sort of site right now. Laura Gee, at Tufts, did work looking at job getting looking at Facebook data, and essentially came to the conclusion that you are more likely to find a job through a strong tie, controlling for all other factors. So it’s like once you get rid of that numbers game of the fact that you have more weak ties and therefore probabilistically they may open more doors. If you know someone and have a strong relationship with someone who can in fact get you a job, that is actually better than a weak tie, which makes good sense, but it sometimes gets lost in the strength of weak ties conversation. The reason I think that’s important, when we go back to this concept of internships, and I would say, internship/any work-based learning experience which, Matthew, maybe we can get into the range of models starting to emerge beyond just the sort of 12 week or semester long internship — that if a student is very clear on the firm or organization at which he or she wants to work, it could actually make a lot of sense to cultivate a few very strong ties within that industry or single firm.
On the other hand, if a student is using an internship as a vehicle for exploration, for expanding options, you actually might want to think about how are we using this experience to not just cultivate a few strong mentoring relationships, but to actually diversify their weak tie network. And so that’s — I say that to sort of, hopefully start to get under the hood of networking, which is also a gross word in and of itself, being purposeful in some direction based on students goals, rather than sort of a one and done format that works for everyone, which I think is just not what the literature reflects.
The last thing I’ll say, in our own research we’ve looked a lot and we’ll get to sort of the role of technology, but we’ve looked a lot at technology tools that put new relationships within reach for students. Maybe in the form of virtual internships, but also in the form of access to mentors who live far away from where you live, access to experts that could come into a classroom over video chat, all sorts of versions of this. And what we sort of concluded is that a lot of traditional mentoring purists would look at those technology tools and be deeply underwhelmed and skeptical that those tools are forming meaningful, enduring, strong tie relationships. And that’s not inaccurate, but I think it’s worth looking at technology as a real lever for expanding weak tie networks, particularly to networks that would otherwise be out of reach because of geography or cost. So that’s a little bit of putting technology in its place, which is a hard conversation to have under the current circumstances, but thinking post-COVID-19 in terms of where technology fits into all of this.
>> Matthew Hora: Thank you Julia. There’s a lot to digest there. If our audience, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to put into the chat, anything you’d like to say. Welcome Chris from Florida and Kim from Long Beach.
Yeah, so there’s a lot of things I’d like to pursue there. Got to just pick a couple though. And one of them you’re referring to, student intentionality, I think, with respect to the types of ties that they could cultivate when they’re in an internship. Can you speak a little bit more about that? I mean just how can colleges and universities help prepare students so that when they go out into the internship, they can think really intentionally about, OK, I need to develop that kind of tie or I need to cultivate a mentoring relationship with that person?
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Yeah, so I would hope that this could happen both on the supply and the demand side, meaning internship design, like the experience design on the part of the employer actually takes this into account, in addition to empowering students to think about how they build networks in the course of an internship.
But on that latter on your — to your question directly of sort of how to prepare students, there’s a lot of — this will belie the networks that I’m a part of right now. There’s a lot of conversation kind of in the K-12 transition to college space right now around purpose and exploring one’s purpose, and the idea that doing so can make you, as a student, a savvier consumer of post-secondary experiences, and I would think, falling onto that sort of internship. So I think there’s a sort of purpose exploration component of this. Then I also think there’s some really compelling model — sort of programs that partner with post-secondary institutions that are helping to kind of call out this game of building social capital more explicitly than it may have been before for students, and help students organize who are their existing relationship assets and where do they actually want to grow those assets.
So, a couple programs that come to mind for me in that space, one is called Braven, it’s a nonprofit that partners with institutions of higher ed to create a course around career preparation and development, and then provides ongoing coaching and support to students as they embark on internships and through their course of study. So Braven has, I think, some good examples of how to name social capital, how to help students identify who is currently in their network through a relationship mapping exercise, and then how to keep track of those growing connections over time.
Another example out there is a virtual coaching platform called Beyond 12, which was really designed to help low-income and first-generation students persist through college, right? It was a retention, intervention, for lack of a better word, using virtual coaches as a support structure for that. But one of the things that they do in the course of their curriculum, they’re sort of college success curriculum, is a social capital sort of module in which students are learning, alongside with their coach, how to think about their networks. And then as they go into both the classroom and potentially the internship site, or the workspace, continuing to map those networks as they go. Because I think if we don’t make this visible, if we don’t name it, it’s — we sort of inadvertently leave it to chance, number one, and we also a little bit let employers off the hook. And I know this is something you’re thinking about a lot, Matthew, in terms of the quality of the internship experience itself. We leave employers off the hook to also leave those encounters to chance. And I don’t know about you, but I feel like especially with the rise of virtual internships, there’s a lot of sort of hand waving about, we’re losing this like magical water cooler where all of these connections are being brokered. And we like anecdotally, we know that that is not always the case, right? I, myself, have had plenty of shiny internships where I sat in a corner and didn’t talk to anyone. And I think, again, that sort of comes back to the supply side of how employers are thinking about it. But naming it, creating curriculum around it, and allowing students to sort of, in the language of instructional reform sometimes, kind of, own their data around this, to see their networks and [inaudible 24:36-37].
>> Matthew Hora: [Cut off audio 24:28] Because it definitely shouldn’t be on the student, themselves to, you know, go about fostering their social networks and capital. You know, there are things that the employer can do to help the student do that. Part of that makes me concerned though, because one of the things that we hear from employers but also, you know, advisors within the college or university, is that not just the hallway water cooler conversations, but happy hours. My sense, you know, and again, this is hearing from the employers talking about taking students out. And that’s really the place where the networking happens. It’s obviously problematic for a whole number of reasons. And if we talk about gender, race and ethnicity, and other aspects of the student’s identity that may make that kind of encounter in that space, not just problematic, but potentially dangerous. So I wonder if you have any thoughts about that, just the, you know, and again, this is a pre-COVID world, right? You know, the predominance of alcohol-related settings, is a place where social networks and social capital can be cultivated for interns.
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Yeah, it’s a really good question. It’s something where I have not done any studying or thinking, to be totally honest. I think, I guess I’ll say what to me could be the opposite alternative to that, or the better alternative, right, which I think is — it’s twofold. It’s realizing that in the course of the work experience there can be deliberate moments of relationship formation. Feedback is one of these moments, in my mind, right? The idea that you’re getting, not just meaningful feedback, but that feedback is a two way conversation in which your relationship is being built. I think sometimes those opportunities like that can sound like sort of check the block, this is what we do with our employees activities, rather than overt relationship building activities.
And the other thing I’d say that to me can, whether we — whether happy hours never happen again because of COVID-19 is a separate conversation. But I’m thinking about part of what happy hours maybe are doing, if I were — I’m totally hypothesizing here, is taking the — going from the formal to the informal, and also opening doors to relationships that might not otherwise be brokered in the course of a workday, right? If you have a sort of assigned supervisor, but in a happy hour suddenly you’re bumping into all these other people, perhaps dangerously or perhaps in positive ways.
One of the models that I’ve been really inspired by, for a sort of — this is a little bit more youth focused than adult learner focused, but for supporting young people in their first jobs is a model out of GAP, Inc, the retailer, called This Way Ahead. And the This Way Ahead model has borrowed from what we know from youth development research, which is that you actually meet — you benefit from a web of connections to sort of thrive in your first job. And those — that web can contain, yes, a supervisor, but also what they call in the GAP, Inc. model a big sib, so a near peer mentor who’s an employee at the company, but who is there to provide in some ways, again I’m using the word “informal” a little loosely here, but informal support, low-stakes conversations, not sort of high-stakes trying to impress your supervisor interactions. And that model of deliberately putting that web within reach for an intern to me actually can get to the positive side of happy hours, which is that you have more — you have a multitude of people with whom you’re forming relationships, but maybe mitigate the negative side, which is sort of that those — who is playing what role becomes less clear and maybe like an alcohol fueled after work environment versus a coherent support structure that’s there, reliably, through the course of the internship. So, I would check that out — that model out. I mean, I know it’s a retail model, but it’s one of the few employers that, to me, has done a really good job of borrowing from the development literature.
>> Matthew Hora: [cut off audio 28:33] the totally smart people because I wish that I could write down everything they’re saying, but we will have a transcription of this Webinar, for anybody that’s interested. And I’ve got a couple of a questions from Travis, Kathleen, and Kim, but before we jump to audience questions, I just wanted to ask you about your sense of the types of research that needs to happen in this space. Because one of the things about internships that you consistently hear about is the claim that they help build professional networks. And like I said at the beginning of this webinar, I’ve been struggling to find studies that document that. And in our study on online and micro-internships that is going to begin in a couple of weeks, we’re going to be having a pre and post for the students where they do a name generator exercise in the survey, about the number and name of people with whom they speak about their careers or their futures. You know, and the hypothesis there is this micro-internship, I’m speculating is going to have a negligible effect on that, but I’m hoping to be proven wrong. Are there any other questions like that or completely different that you think are important as researchers start thinking about designing these studies, and hopefully there’s going to be more and more in the future? What are some of the pressing questions in the fields that you think researchers should be asking?
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Yes, love this question and obviously super excited and maybe slightly more optimistic than you are, Matthew, about the study that you’re embarking on. But let me put two things out there. There are two studies, one is an evaluation that I would point you to that exists out there. But just to mean that they confirm your point that we actually need way more research out there, but they’re just interesting to look at.
So one is a 2012 evaluation of big picture learning, which is a high school that all of the students within the Big Picture Learning Network engage three days a week in internship based learning and then two days a week at the school site. And their evaluation of alumni found that nearly three fourths of respondents who were working and not in school, meaning they hadn’t pursued a post-secondary option, were instead working, had secured a job through a high school internship contact. So that, to me, it’s like again, this is a program evaluation, it’s not sort of a big, elaborate research study, but that’s the sort of question I’m interested in, right? Meaning it gets to that longitudinal point I was making. Meaning maybe it’s not just that like I have a — I now have a mentor capital M whatever that means. But it’s the idea that in the course of my internship, I brokered a relationship that down the line I was able to lean on to open a door to get me a job.
There’s another study that you may have seen called “Pathways to high quality jobs”. It’s a report from Brookings, which was a study of work-based programs. Now work-based, again is a broader array of experiences, everything from job shadows to client projects to a more full stack internship experience. And they did isolate there that relationship-based, work-based learning experiences appeared to drive access to high quality jobs ten years down the line. But if you go into the report and you dig into the footnotes, what we mean by relationship based for me, it’s fairly elusive. So I just pointed those two as like things to know that they exist not so much an answer to your question of what’s the research?
So if we then get to what should we be researching, I personally am really interested in researchers partnering with some of the programs out there beyond large traditional post-secondary institutions offering internships, but some of the programs that are trying to create new pathways into work-based learning and understanding how to evaluate their designs. So that’s one sort of inroad I’m really interested in.
The second — so that you’re doing measurement design at once, both versus sort of an autopsy of an approach after the fact. The second is around relationship quality, which is a really thorny topic. It’s not that it hasn’t been studied for decades, but as you think about the relational, the developmental, and the instrumental value that a relationship could lend to a student, or to an intern, I think really starting to ask questions of students and employers to unearth relationship quality feels really important, so that we’re not falling into the trap of sort of counting contacts, but not measuring connection.
And then the last would be, maybe you’re doing this already in your project, I think, by definition, because you’re studying micro-internships. And also, on top of that, anyone researching this right now are studying virtual internships. But I do wonder about sort of form versus function here. An internship describes a bundle of experiences. And I wonder how much we can start to see research that unbundles what we mean by those experiences. So forming a network, finding near peers mentors, acquiring skills, exposure to a variety of roles within a company. Like there’s a whole bunch of things that we sort of lump together when we say “internship” and the more we can get precise about that, A- the more scalable these experiences, the high quality parts of this could become, because we’ve actually figured out what matters, and maybe set aside what doesn’t matter so much, but still taking up time and money, but B- I think we’ll get more precise about what is actually leading to positive outcomes for [inaudible 34:29-30] for students. Can you answer your own question, Matthew, just out of curiosity?
>> Matthew Hora: Well, you kind of just exploded my mind thinking about unbundling the internship experience, because you’re right. I mean, it’s such a complicated and multilayered experience the student may be having in another organization, in a new profession, possibly in a new country, interacting with new people. And so you have things like the task, you know, as you’re mentioning, the relationship quality, the link to their academic coursework, they may have an advisor at the college or somebody that’s running an internship course. So you have all these different players involved in different activities.
So, I think for now, I’m just going to sit with that complexity and [inaudible 34:55] as an anthropologist I love it, I dig it. But you know, when you have to actually design a research project, and, you know, name some variables that you’re going to focus on. And, you know, our study is mixed methods, so we can do a little bit of both. We can talk to the student, we’re hoping to at some point observe the student at the job site and just see what they’re actually doing, but with respect to social capital, again, we’re just doing the name generators for our study on micro-internships. But I think these need to be longitudinal studies as you mentioned, and some of the work we are doing is longitudinal. Unfortunately, when we started that study, social capital was not a focus, but I think we’re going to add it in, so our wave two and three and four questions can start to track it. And I’m going to be really curious about, you know, what’s the role of the person in the firm or the organization or the student journey? Was it the direct supervisor, was it a near peer? Was it the boss? Who was it and what do they bring to the students?
So we have a bunch of questions. And I mean, I still have a few, but I want to hear what the audience thinks. I’m going to ask a few, but if anybody has any questions in the audience, or if you just want to let us know where you’re watching from, that’s always fun. I think we have the Mountain West, Mid Atlantic Northeast represented. We don’t have anybody from Alaska or Canada, but if you just want to chime in, in the chat where you’re from.
And one of the questions has to do with, this is from Kimberly, I’d love to hear your thoughts for the role of the internship instructor. How can internship course instructors facilitate social capital cultivation? And so, this would be in cases where the student has a required internship course, where, you know, they’re talking with either the faculty member or the course coordinator, you know, a few times during the experience. Do you have any thoughts on that, Julia?
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. So I think it’s, oh can you hear me? Oh, perfect. I think that it’s important to view that role, if we’re sort of putting on a social capital lens, as both a relationship, right, that can offer resources and a broker to other opportunities, but also potentially a facilitator of a group of students that are embarking on an internship. Which we haven’t really talked about peer relationships right now, but I actually think that’s a really — Braven, which I mentioned, runs a cohort experience. And one of the things that they found — it’s not an internship course per se, but it’s a career preparation course. One of the things they found, an unintended consequence of that course, was that they did a social network analysis pre and post and found really strong connections among the peers who took that course together as a cohort. And that it had — that those peer relationships were helping the young people who were predominantly first-generation, minority, low-income students, to feel a sense of belonging on campus, that they hadn’t actually felt before, and a sense of fellowship as they were going out into often predominantly white workplaces, and could actually have a community to sort of go back to. So that role of facilitator I wouldn’t sort of underestimate, because right there within a course you actually have the social capital of the students that can be leveraged and built over time.
The second piece around being a broker, you know, I think that back to some of the comments before on kind of purpose exploration and making sure that students are going into internships with at least a goal in mind. Maybe the internship doesn’t need those goals but at least they are going in with sort of a purpose. And so I think on the front end of those courses, having not just some of the things I experienced in college, which is sort of like career exploration of the diagnostic parietal, where you like take a test and you’re told what you should pursue or career exploration. The other way this happens is of the inherited varietal. Like I know x, y and z people working in the law, so therefore, should I go to law school? Which by the way I did, and it was a very expensive mistake.
So if we want to cut through sort of the career diagnostic or the inherited career exploration pathways, I think we should create opportunities for students to talk to people in a variety of professions before they actually take that step into an internship. So I may be misunderstanding how these courses are typically structured, but providing the chance for young people, and you can use video chat for this right, for young people to talk to people in a whole variety of professions to understand what jobs were that they may not have known existed. But to do that in a relationship-based way rather than just an information-transferred way, I think you kind of build both information capital and social capital at once, if that makes sense. So, that’s a couple thoughts, I don’t know if — I wish the people on the chat could talk, but chime in if you have seen other things that were, sort of, successful relationship-building opportunities in the course of those courses.
>> Matthew Hora: Yeah and they can, kind of, talk there in the chat and we have Elizabeth from Portland, Julie from the University of Maryland, we have my colleague, [inaudible 40:16], who’s here in Madison, and Maria’s asking: can you say more about how that would work? And I think that’s in reference to what you were just talking about.
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Yeah, so how on the cohort front, I think is — it’s relative to making sure that there’s a curriculum in place that involves students actually working on either projects or career diagnostics or fill in the blank together, and curriculum place for students to do a combination of sort of identity and career exploration together, so that they’re telling their stories, they’re thinking about what they want their future selves to be, they’re exchanging that information with one another. So that’s on the cohort front.
In terms of the sort of networked career exploration, there are tools out there that were designed for this express purpose. So one that comes to mind is a group called Career Village. For those of you who know what Quora is, Q-U-O-R-A, which is like a Q&A site. Career Village is a little bit similar to that. Which is that students can go on and ask questions about careers, and it crowdsources information from over 50,000 working professionals who are volunteers on the site. Now what’s powerful about this is it is potentially going to disrupt some of the misinformation that students could get by simply googling those questions. You’re actually getting information from authentic professionals who are working in these fields, and sort of leveraging the power of that crowd. But one thing that Career Village is also finding that I think makes it a really compelling tool, or type of tool, to use in a course like this, is that sometimes they’re finding that they have to coach students on what questions to even ask in the first place, about career paths and career possibilities. So if you think about embedding a technology like that within a module, or a class, or a set of a sort of series of discussions in the class, about exploring your purpose and asking good questions, you’re not only building some muscles around purpose and exploration, but you’re also building relationships by coaching students on how to ask questions. So I think that’s a really — that type of tool is really powerful.
Another tool I just call out, or a couple tools, Nepris and Dream Makers are two different tools that port industry experts into classrooms. Meaning, you don’t, as the internship course lecturer or instructor, have to go out and find all these relationships, these companies and organizations, one is a company, one is a nonprofit have already sourced the professionals. So it really is just a matter of being the connective tissue, and, sort of, creating the moment where that video chat can take place. So, I think those tools – this could all obviously, also, happen in person, I’m just very compelled by tools that make this way cheaper and less of a logistical nightmare, than the traditional career fair or once-annual career fair that many students have experienced.
>> Matthew Hora: [Audio cut off 43:12] now are not being held, so — I just have to say one of the things I really enjoy about speaking with you, Julia, is, you know, when you’re in academia, you tend to not be really up on the non-profits and the vendors and the spaces doing the work. And so, I think it’s really important, as researchers, that we become aware and attuned to some of the different tools out there and some of the different programs and initiatives that are underway and not working in this, you know, academic vacuum where it’s just about data. So I just want to say that it’s great to hear about a lot of these programs because I didn’t know about them and I’m writing them down as you speak.
There was a question about introverted students. This came from Kathleen and she asked if you had any advice about students who are introverted, who may not be, you know, it may — they may not be accustomed to going out there and developing relationships with near peers or a supervisor. How can we think about that, about addressing some of those students?
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Yeah, I am a massive introvert, so I love this question. Even though we’re on a video, I’m not having to deal with any of like my main social anxieties. I’m still sweating right now. So I super appreciate this question. And if anyone has read the book Quiet, which is a sort of deep dive into what — sort of what it means to be an introvert. One of the findings in that is — that it is circumstance-dependent versus sort of an absolute category. And so I think rather than thinking about how do we break students out of a proverbial shell, thinking about how do we create the circumstances where they can feel successful in relationship, is like my mental model for answering this question.
The other mental model I have in mind is the distinction that we’ve actually seen — my research really started in K-12, so that’s why I’m making some references to K-12, but some examples we’ve seen in the student support world in K-12, that are explicitly about not brokering connections, but actually conducting what they call warm handoffs. Meaning someone who knows the student, who may be an introvert, being able to essentially be sort of an ally or an agent on behalf of that student when connecting them to a new program or an opportunity in the case of student support. This can be something like an after-school program, right? And so because I, as a support coordinator, actually know Johnny, and can communicate to that support or after-school organization things that I know about Johnny, he does not walk in an unknown quantity to an after-school program.
So what’s the analogous sort of form of that when we think about internships? I really think there’s two layers of this. One is when you go back to sort of whoever at your university is coordinating internships; that the importance of them having relationships with the employer so that they can play that warm handoff role. The second though, is creating a really coherent way in which your cataloguing alumna of internships. Meaning, who are the students who came before, who actually know the space and can provide some of that both informal knowledge but also warm handoff on behalf of the student? And I don’t know how many programs really keep track of that or leverage those alums to be support systems and brokers on behalf of new students entering internships, but to me that is latent social capital value on the table that will be helpful to all students, but particularly those who might be more shy or less sort of what you hear in the mentoring world, lessons in the sort of mentor magnet where they just they’ll be fine wherever they go, because they forge strong relationships and are sort of an extrovert. So that’s a couple a couple of thoughts there.
The last piece on the circumstances, actually, now that I’m just riffing on this is, Matthew, you mentioned sort of task development and how tasks are designed. I actually think this is a whole interesting layer of the research in general, which is like what would social task development look like or task — designing tasks that have an overt, sort of, social end in mind, in terms of whom the intern is working alongside with in the course of completing the tasks. Because, I’ll say, as an introvert, it’s sort of like, I’m introverted until I’m in the work, and then I’m not introverted, right? Because I’m working on a task, and I can neutralize some of those anxieties. So just another, like, maybe not so intelligent thought.
>> Matthew Hora: [Audio cut off 47:42] this study is problem based learning and, you know, within a college course, those are some of the most social, you know, learning opportunities and spaces for students. And, we do a lot of classroom observations, and it’s interesting to watch students, some of whom you can tell are just super gregarious, they’re rigorous, you know, and they’re like ducks in water, but other students, they struggle with it. And I’ve seen cases where the instructor is really good at helping those students kind of ease into the project and the team-based activity, but others who just kind of, you know, sink or swim. They provide no guidance or scaffolding. So I think there’s a really important issue that we haven’t thought about in our research team with respect to internship work, like the types of work they’re doing at the job site.
Are you able to type in, Julia, in the chat? Can you see that here? Because somebody asked about the names of organizations and it looks like Maria typed in Career Village. But if you could just type in some of the names of the organizations that you were talking about, that are working in the space of helping students get prepared for internships, or you know, post college or post school careers. And while you’re doing that I can talk about a couple issues. And then we have a few more minutes left, if anybody else has any questions.
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Oh sure.
>> Matthew Hora: The other thing that I wanted to mention is that some of our research, you know, takes place within historically black colleges and universities, HBCUs. And more than one black student has talked about, when they’re in the internship space, and there’s other interns, the students from the predominantly white institutions, and we’re talking about predominantly white workplaces here, they find that the supervisors treat the white students from a PWI much better. They give them better tasks. They provide more mentoring opportunities. Maybe it’s happy hour, or maybe it’s something else. And it’s a struggle. I mean, if you could just imagine being in a workplace and seeing some of your peers who are, you know, also interns being treated so differently. I just wonder if you have any thoughts about that, because as we think about mentoring and network development, I think we really have to be attentive to the issues of discrimination in the workplace, whether it’s implicit bias or explicit where some employers are giving preferential treatment to white students.
>> Julia Freeland Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a hugely important question even before the sort of watershed moment that the country is in right now. And I really think — so there’s this — this is a two sided coin of what can colleges do as advocates for their black students, in particular, and students of color, more generally, and then what can employers do? And I just I don’t want to let employers off the hook in this conversation, even though I think colleges and any sort of workforce development organization is sometimes trying to help empower prospective employees to be in relationship with their employers, and sometimes trying to inoculate them against what they will inevitably have to navigate in predominantly white workspaces.
So, the first — my first answer to this question is this, is about the ability of white employers and white employees to be in relationship with black students, interns, and employees. I like keep this next to my desk because I keep bringing it up when I’m doing things like this. But there’s a book called Critical Mentoring by Torie Weiston-Serdom. It comes out of the mentoring world, but I actually think it could also be called critical managing or critical being in relationship more broadly. And it really is about bringing both awareness from the design standpoint, and the measurement standpoint, to power asymmetry in any mentoring relationship, but specifically with an eye towards race. And so I think that that piece has to be sort of increasingly part of employer culture. And hopefully for the people that are sending interns to employers, maybe a demand that is levied, that employers get a little bit more careful about this work and explicit about it. Because I think one of the things that’s getting talked about a lot right now in the workplace is the difference between diversity, equity, and then that “I”: inclusion. What does actual inclusion look like, which I think is that sort of anecdotal data you’re pointing to, Matthew.
The second thing I’d say is that, what I worry about even when we use the term mentor, and if we’re going back to some of the core principles of social capital research around this idea that our networks offer resources, is that if we use metrics in workplaces like recruitment and retention, which are two of the big ones, right now under a lot of corporate DI initiatives. And if you use climate surveys, sort of workplace climate or culture surveys. There can be a tendency to inadvertently or overtly, depending on the employer, reward sort of caring and supporting behaviors but not measure helping and/or opening behaviors. Meaning you can say that you care about your employee who is black, a black employee can say that they feel cared about by their supervisor, but are they actually not getting the same door opening brokering opportunities from that supervisor? And that is — it’s a different measurement approach than, again, what I think a lot of culture and climate surveys has historically looked at. And so that’s a — and I — so that’s on the employer side.
On the sort of college side, I think this gets to a broader question that I saw in the chat around colleges being purposeful brokers in general, as institutions. But in particular for their black students, or an HBCU for all of their students. And I think from that perspective, we have to start measuring this. Otherwise we are flying blind and hope is not a strategy, right? So, until colleges are able to take stock of, who do our students actually know? Who are in their networks, not just who do they go to class with? Who are in their networks? How are those networks changing over time? And, how are black students experiencing their relationships within those networks? Until we have data on that, I worry that a lot of this is guesswork, on the part of even well-intentioned colleges.
>> Matthew Hora: To end our conversation on the — I think I’ve got at least seven or eight different research project ideas from this conversation, Julia. And, I hope that our audience has gained some new insights into the nature of social capital and networks and how internships interact with that world and that phenomenon. So, this webinar will be up on the Center for Research on College to Workforce Transitions. It’ll be up on our website in about a week along with the transcript, so if anybody would like to go back and see what we’ve been talking about, it’ll all be there. And thank you so much for your time, Julia. I really appreciate it. And thank you everybody for joining us this week. Have a great next few days and stay safe.