UW-Madison Launches International Internship Program


DATE: Monday, March 20, 2006

CONTACT: Ronnie Hess, Director of Communications, Division of International Studies, UW-Madison, (608) 262-5590, rlhess@wisc.edu


Madison, WI – Thanks to a new, first-of-its-kind program at UW-Madison, a core group of undergraduates will soon be able to experience what it’s like to work for a major international company or a non-governmental organization (NGO) overseas.

Under the program, called the International Academic Internships Initiative (IAII), about ten students will be placed in positions in international companies in Europe, Asia, and Africa beginning this summer. Students will earn up to three academic credits for participating in the eight-week program, sponsored by the Division of International Studies, the School of Business, the College of Engineering, and the Institute for Cross-College Biology Education.

“A recent survey by the American Council on Education reported that an overwhelmingly majority of companies say they need managers and employees with great international knowledge,” says Gilles Bousquet, dean of International Studies. “We want to make sure that our graduates have that knowledge and training, including the opportunity for an international academic internship.”

Other UW partners share Bousquet’s enthusiasm. “This initiative is an exciting and viable model that will deliver value to our students and to participating companies,” says Michael Knetter, dean of the School of Business. “The internships will provide our students with invaluable opportunities to gain practical experience in international settings.”

“The Institute for Cross-College Biology Education is excited to be associated with the international internships program,” says its director, Thomas Sharkey. “We work to provide both internship and international experiences for our students to prepare them for the future. The range of our students is reflected in the types of internships being pursued through this initiative.”

The new director of the internships program is Loren Kuzuhara, a faculty member in the UW-Madison School of Business. “We live in a global world,” Kuzuhara says. “Whether you’re a business student or majoring in another discipline, the chances of you working in the future with people from other countries are very high, both at home and abroad.”

According to Kuzuhara, Wisconsin employers generally are impressed with UW-Madison students, what Kuzuhara calls their “intellectual horsepower,” their academic achievements and their work ethic, but the companies are frequently disappointed that students aren’t more cosmopolitan. “The students seem unaware of the world around them in many cases,” Kuzuhara says.

Several companies and NGOs are participating in the program, including SC Johnson, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of home cleaning, storage, air care, insect control and personal care products, based in Racine; Promega, a Madison-based advanced technologies firm with offices around the world; Plexus Corp., headquartered in Neenah, providing contract electronics product design and test as well as manufacturing and fulfillment services to a variety of industries; Inmarsat, a global mobile satellite communications company, based in London, England; Toshiba Corporation, a world leader in technology products; and Central Japan Railway Company, focused on intercity high-speed train service in Japan.

“Companies and universities are competing on an increasingly global stage,” says Dean Foate, President and CEO of Plexus. “The International Academic Internships program is a sound strategy to develop vitally important global leadership skills for students and (company) mentors, and we enthusiastically offer Plexus’ support.”

Kuzuhara believes that what makes the UW-Madison initiative special is not just the promise of a job but the program’s academic requirements. The program is designed to ensure that students reflect on their experience and that they connect and contextualize what they’ve experienced both in and outside of the classroom. The students will have an intensive orientation before beginning their assignments, and debriefings when they return. They will be assigned special readings, as well as an extensive research project while on the job. The students will also have weekly check-ins by phone with Kuzuhara and the program’s associate director, Mark Lilleleht. They will also be assigned a supervisor or mentor overseas to help them adjust to their new work and cultural environments.

According to Lilleleht, there has been strong student response to the new program. “I don’t think we have to demonstrate to our students that the internships are worthwhile,” Lilleleht says, adding that the internship experiences can help students become more marketable after graduation.

In 2003, a UW-Madison task force on international internships found that international internships were viewed as an increasingly important part of the academic experience. The task force report stated that nearly 200 UW-Madison students across 20 different academic disciplines undertook some kind of international internship in the 2002-2003 academic year, and that the students said they believed internship experiences made them more attractive to potential employers, helped them with professional contacts, fostered language skills, and gave them new perspectives about the world.

Lilleleht says that once applications have been reviewed and a pool of students selected for the program, prospective interns will be matched with a prospective employer to assure the best “fit.” The employer will then choose from among a list of candidates. Depending on their assignments, the interns may receive housing or financial assistance.

Although the UW-Madison offers a wealth of study-abroad programs, domestic internships, including the Washington, D.C. Semester in International Affairs in the nation’s capital, and sponsors initiatives to help students find jobs overseas, there has never been a formal international academic internship program. The internships, which will be competitive and require that students have at least a 3.0 overall GPA, are open to undergraduates from any discipline. Students participating in the IAII will register for independent study or directed study in their department or field of study.

For more information on the International Academic Internships Initiative, go to: http://intern.international.wisc.edu/