Dr. Jones' Sabbatical and Internship Research
- Author: Kristen Darby
- Author: Tuesday, July 9th, 2019
For the spring semester of 2019, Dr. Angela Jones wasn’t teaching, but she was far from being on vacation. Dr. Jones, an associate professor in the WKU Department of English, embarked on an experience she had never had before—a sabbatical. A sabbatical is paid leave granted to professors, with the caveat that the time spent off will result in research and work that will benefit the university.
Dr. Jones began teaching at WKU in 2005. A brand new professor, she was also handed the responsibility of taking over the internship program in the English Department. Dr. Jones works with establishments to determine what internships they offer, rather than relying on the student to find their own internships. “I think one strength of our program is that I try to make it really easy for the students to have an internship opportunity. That is, I do the grunt work of gathering the placements and advertising the placements.” Since starting the program in 2005, Dr. Jones has seen 145 internship placements, which averages to about 17 internships per year and 8.5 internships per semester.
While Dr. Jones’ internship program has been successful, she felt caught up in coordinating the program that the larger scope of the program was out of view.
“The day-to-day administration of the program was wearing me out. Having a sabbatical has really helped. I can look back at my syllabus. I can do scholarly research and see what would benefit the program. It’s the program I have been running, and running and running, for years on end. I was just really locked into my way of seeing it, and being able to take time off and take a step back has given me different ways to see it. The class that I offer students in the fall will be substantially improved.”
A strength of the English Department Internship Program is that it is coordinated by an English Department faculty member. Many universities have one large internship program with one coordinator who is responsible for hundreds of internship placements. Because of her position as an English Department faculty member, Dr. Jones is able to provide optimum internship placements for English majors as well as act as a mentor for interns once they have been placed. The internship program supports the entire English Department; the program isn’t just for Professional Writing majors, but also for Literature, Creative Writing, Film, and English for Secondary Teachers.
Internships are an opportunity to apply classwork to the real world. Students work in an environment similar to the one they wish to pursue after graduating, and gain experience while deciding if it’s right for them.
“My undergraduate jobs were all fast food, fast food, and more fast food. Library assistant, and desk worker.” said Dr. Jones. “I didn't really have a chance to try to do any of the things that would take my English major skills out into the world. The internship lets students do that. Maybe if they're thinking about teaching, or social media, or journalistic writing, or they're thinking about website support, they can choose something that lets them get their feet wet. Sometimes they find out they love it, and sometimes they find out they hate it. And those are both really useful things.”
Dr. Jones explored practices to improve the program, such as allowing students to find their own placements. Dr. Jones is familiar with the importance of having well-prepared supervisors and mentors to guide the interns. “Staff members may not have experience mentoring a student, or they just might be new to our program and not sure what its requirements are. That's why I'm developing some materials for supervisors to help them be better prepared.”
Dr. Jones has also been developing ideas for ways students can showcase what they do and what they’ve learned. Dr. Jones would like to create panel discussion opportunities for students to talk about their work experience and provide information to students who might be interested in an internship placement.
The semester-long sabbatical provided Dr. Jones an opportunity to step back and view the internship program from a greater distance and allowed her to research ways to improve the program.
“Most directly, [the research] will help me improve the internship program and the two classes that accompany it. The other thing I found is a lot of my research was more broadly about the curriculum for English departments, or even the bigger picture of the value of a liberal arts, and how do we make ourselves viable in today's economy. The bigger picture that I'll be able to think more about is the role the internship plays in the curriculum, and how the internship program and the English department can help each other. I'll be able to share, both with the program and then more broadly with the department.”
Dr. Jones will be back to her normal teaching schedule in the upcoming fall 2019 semester, prepared with new ideas and practices to implement in her classes and program.