A Three-way Partnership for Learning: On-Campus Electronic Internships


This article describes an ongoing educational partnership between Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company (FFIC) and California State University-Chico (CSUC). The core of the partnership is an on-campus internship program that: allows the university to defer expenses; allows FFIC to gain an on-campus presence; and lets students obtain real world experiences. The paper reports the partnership by positioning experiences with the partnership within key indicators of a student learning environment.

This article describes an ongoing educational partnership between Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company (FFIC) and California State University-Chico (CSUC). The core of the partnership is an on-campus internship program that: allows the university to defer expenses; allows FFIC to gain an on-campus presence; and lets students obtain real world experiences. The paper reports the partnership by positioning experiences with the partnership within key indicators of a student learning environment.

At the heart of the model is a learning partnership whereby the teacher identifies what needs to be learned and the student helps identify the means by which their learning occurs. Significantly, both sides of this union must recognize their obligations to the partnership. For example, the teacher creates a learning environment in which the student participates.

Earlier proponents of the model, Chickering and Gamson (1987), propose guidelines for introducing student learning into undergraduate education as "seven principles." The American Association of Higher Education (AAHE 1996) extended this list by adding five more "principles." They then divided all twelve into three groupings based around organizational culture, curriculum and instruction. Table 1 represents a subset of these principles that serve both as the objectives of the learning environment and as a means to evaluate our environment in a later section of this paper.

Internships and co-ops represent another area of promise to address the concern of the skill mismatch suggested in the business school curricula. These are programs that move students off-campus and put them in a real-world, business environment for a period of time. Today, these programs are obvious recruiting devices for the sponsor program, but also lend themselves to opportunities for education and learning.

Endorsement of using these programs as a means of education can be found in the Social Work Education Model. Here Calloway and Beckstead (1997) specifically suggest incorporating into the education offered business students, the fundamental idea of internships as prescribed within the Social Work model. Their analysis further identified three main components of the model: philosophical foundation; faculty, student and community involvement; and program structure. The philosophy component provides the underpinning model. In this case, it is the integration of classroom learning and fieldwork. The involvement component describes the roles each of the players undertake; the faculty director as project administrator; the student as an active learner and the sponsoring agency as the enabling agent. Finally, the program structure component describes how the program is implemented.

The Philosophical Component

Corporate partnerships similar to the on-campus internships described here serve three purposes. One, they increase awareness among faculty as to what industry needs from a student upon graduation. Two, they raise awareness on the campus about the sponsor and three, they provide internships, money, a work environment and future employment opportunities for students.

Communication between all parties is vital to the success of any partnership. Clear assignments and communication about these assignments is very important. Additionally, a thorough and sensible system of work and communication should be in place at the beginning of the program from which to build a learning environment and to which modifications may be made as necessary. Without the initial setup, the program may flounder and be ineffective or even fail.

Training is another important aspect of an internship. Often students want to do internships because they will receive valuable training along with the work experience. It is important that company partners address these needs in order for the students to have a satisfying experience. Also, companies should let faculty know what they need students to know. Many faculty members are open to starting new classes or incorporating real world projects that will help students get jobs. When facing the task of training new interns each semester, experienced interns from previous semesters can provide excellent transitions of information as new interns are usually more comfortable with their peers.

In a survey conducted as part of the program’s first semester project, (Repka, et al. 1996), 80% of students reported interest in working in an internship. Sixty-seven percent of the students felt they would be very likely to accept a job offer from the company in which they took an internship, if their internship experience had been good. Only 25% felt this way, very likely, if they had not done an internship. The survey supports the notion that a good way for companies to secure employees is with internships. It also follows that a good way to attract students to an internship program is to offer projects in which they are interested. In this case, over 80% of all students surveyed were interested in networking, database development and business analysis. Also frequently mentioned were HTML, CGI, C++, JAVA and E-commerce.

From a sponsor’s view, internships are a way to gain valuable, intelligent and dedicated employees. Internships can be performed at the company, or at the university. However, doing an internship at the university has additional benefits. The sponsoring corporation becomes better known among the faculty, administration and students. This type of internship is more easily accessible to more students, and the heightened level of awareness about the sponsor dovetails nicely with recruiting efforts. In fact, a successful internship can become a major feature of the recruiting effort, which is good for the sponsor company, good for the students, and helps create public relations opportunities for the university.

In summary, the partnership is created by a win-win-win interchange of facilitation and participation by the students, FFIC and CSUC. Each participant in the interchange contributes in different ways (see Figure 1).

The Community Involvement Component

An on-campus, electronic internship is a hybrid environment positioned between the classroom and the internship (Martz, et al 1999). The key philosophical components of the electronic internship revolve around improving learning through participation and facilitation. The electronic internship uses the major components of the internship model along with the guidelines for a better student learning environment. The on-campus internship creates a three-way, mutually beneficial partnership for the students, the sponsoring organization and the business program curriculum. All three parties (the students, the faculty and the sponsor) must participate in the internship and must facilitate the internship environment. One such partnership exists between California State University-Chico (CSUC) and Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company (FFIC).

The corporate partner — defined as the main community player in the Social Work Model — for the program described here is Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. FFIC - The Fund was founded in San Francisco by William Holdredge in 1863. By 1868, the company was operating nationwide. The moniker, Fireman’s Fund, is derived from the philanthropic policy implemented by the company whereby a percentage of FFIC’s profits was paid to widows and orphans of firefighters.

As a result of their strategic planning process in 1997, FFIC identified the need for a more substantial information systems infrastructure. In this quest, FFIC is migrating their 8,000-station network from OS/2 to Windows NT and implementing PeopleSoft enterprise wide software. As the scope of this undertaking expanded, the need for additional well-trained employees became more apparent. To address this need, FFIC undertook a strategy to expand their traditional recruitment of new employees from college campuses. California State University-Chico was selected as a candidate for this partnership.

The Program Structure Component

The program structure component is represented by the timeline below. It describes the key events and interactions occurring between FFIC and CSUC during the implementation of the partnership.

Spring 1997 — Proposal Phase: Dan Liberatore of Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company (FFIC) proposed a project around FFIC providing real world work in the area of COBOL maintenance programming.

Summer 1997 — Proof of Concept: A three-week, pilot program was initiated to determine the feasibility and to provide "proof of concept" for sending real work to campus-based students. The results showed that once the fundamental requirements of the program are created and detailed, student programmers could locate the problem areas and code the solutions within statistically similar amounts of time.

Fall 1997 — Implementation: The partnership funding received approval and ten students were hired for the fall semester through an application process. Three of the ten students opted to undertake additional work for academic credit. The additional work included: 1) establishing a Web page for the project (http://www.csuchico.edu/acms/ffic/)

, 2) surveying the students regarding the impression of the internship program for FFIC management, 3) documenting the lab procedures, and 4) providing network administration support for the lab equipment. One student was hired for a three-week period between semesters to work onsite with FFIC.

Spring 1998 — Continuation: Ten students (two carry-over students and eight new students) were selected for internships and divided into two teams. This semester, intern projects included a Lotus Notes development project and a COBOL debugging maintenance project. Both projects became the core assignments for student interns continuing with FFIC for the summer.

Summer 1998 — Continuation: Both projects became the core assignments for student interns continuing with FFIC for the summer. In addition, two of the six possible students (defined as those students who were in the program and who have graduated) have signed on with FFIC as full-time employees. Six of the eight possible students (defined as those students from the Spring semester who were eligible for summer internships) signed with FFIC for the summer of 1998. All eight of those students returning from the fall semester of 1998 have re-applied for the on-campus internships.

Fall 1998 — Continuation: The projects that the interns worked on during the summer were carried forward into this semester. Students worked directly with FFIC managers on the projects.

Spring 1999 — Continuation: Ten students were identified through an application process. The projects this semester included developing a recruiting Web page for FFIC and a student interview database.

Current Status — A typical day in the FFIC lab consists of several students working both individually and as a team. Students communicate with FFIC mentors and support staff in Novato via e-mail and Lotus Notes. While the students are required to work only ten hours a week and can schedule their own hours, there are some constraints. They must schedule to meet with the whole group for a weekly one-hour meeting, and with their team for a three-hour work session.

Discussion: Principles Revisited

Like the learning centered classroom and the social work field internship, the on-campus internship provides a legitimate response to the desire to establish ongoing student learning environments and to positively impact undergraduate education. In support of this position, the following list of "principles and indicators" of program success extracted from the literature cited earlier is proposed. Some are tied directly with original components and guidelines cited before, while others are more pragmatic, derived from two years of actual experience.

Re-conceptualize Education as Driven by Learning

The environment created by the on-campus internship is learning driven. Students are asked to do more than just learn new computer programs or memorize lists. Students gain exposure to business communications and operating procedures, which becomes a key component of what the students gain from working in this environment.

Provide Opportunities for Self-directed Learning

Certainly, self-directed learning is facilitated by the students’ ability to choose self-study, or faculty or mentor support as their preferred course in problem solving. In the internship, self-directed learning takes on more than a choice made by an individual. Significantly, within the environment described here, self-directed learning also takes on the qualities of collaboration and cooperation necessitated by working in teams.

Reshape Authority in the Classroom

Authority, defined here as who determines the best way to undertake and complete the projects, rests with the student teams. Responsibility for the projects’ success resides with the teams also. FFIC mentors monitor the scope of the projects and the CSUC faculty director handles the logistics. As long as the teams remain within the scope and logistics, they have complete decision making autonomy in this area.

Adopt a Relational Learning Approach

The lab environment with its inherent problem sharing and camaraderie characteristics fosters relational learning. The scheduled team and project meetings also encourage the sharing of experiences fundamental to relational learning.

Pay Attention to Context and Integration of Education and Experience

These guidelines receive the strongest support with the on-campus partnership structure. The organizational context that the students encounter ten hours per week is exactly the same as the one they will enter in the future. The internship is a microcosm of the small group, task oriented, business environment so prevalent in today’s business world.

Foster Lifelong Learning

The internship lab is a paradoxical environment. As a new environment, it is significantly different, yet somewhat comfortable in that it resides within the familiar campus environment. As the students are thrown into a new environment, they relearn how to learn. The notions of confirming information, validating assumptions and time management become major elements in the learning process.

Self-Directed Learning and Co-participation in Knowledge Creation

Students are assigned projects and left to their own resources to accomplish the tasks. This d'es not mean that they are abandoned, it means they must understand the problem in more depth than in a classroom in order to ask for help on it. Defined this way, asking for help is anticipated by the students, mentors, and faculty and not perceived as an admission of inadequacy. The students choose to research the problem themselves, consult with the faculty advisor or contact their mentor. In some cases, a combination of these approaches will prove best.

Collaboration and Cooperation

The use of small teams targeting assigned problems supports the collaboration and cooperation indicator from the Learning Centered Education literature. Interestingly, this implies exposure to the disadvantages (computer down time, telephone tag, deadlines, etc.) along with the advantages.


In summary, the goal of education is to continuously improve the methods by which it educates. Currently, traditional classroom methods are being called into question. This is especially true for traditional business school curricula. The tenets from Learning Centered Education literature suggest changes based upon creating environments where students are challenged to participate in their own learning. CSUC and FFIC have partnered to create one such environment.

Wm. Benjamin (Ben) Martz, Jr., Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Accounting and Management Information Systems at California State University, Chico. His research interests include software development, groupware and team-based problem solving. Martz received his M.S. in Management Information Systems (MIS) from the University of Arizona in 1985 and his Ph.D. in Business with an emphasis in MIS in 1989. Martz was one of the founding members of Ventana Corporation — a technology spin-off firm from the University of Arizona.

E-mail: [email protected]




AAHE. 1996. "What Research Says About Improving Undergraduate Education," compiled by Peter Ewell, American Association of Higher Education Bulletin, April, vol 5.

Calloway, D. and Beckstead, S.M. 1995. "Reconceptualizing Internships in Management Education," Journal of Management Education, vol 19, no.3., p326-341.

Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.F. 1987. "7 Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education," The Wingspread Journal, June.

Martz, W. B., Repka, T., Kramer, J. and Reale, F. 1999. "On-Campus Electronic Internships: Merging Co-ops and Internships," Journal of Cooperative Education, forthcoming, Summer 1999.

Repka, T., Kramer, J. and Reale, F. 1997. Creating a Partnership-Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company and the College of Business at CSU - Chico, MINS189c Report.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.