Documenting Impact: Wayne State Humanities Clinic

This summer, we launched the Humanities for All blog to showcase publicly engaged humanities initiatives in the words of the faculty, staff, students, and community partners directly involved in the projects. Our September 8 post by Lillian Wilson focuses on the Wayne State Humanities Clinic, an innovative graduate internship program at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Twenty-three interns from the humanities and humanistic social sciences were matched with 25 non-profits and businesses that serve Detroit communities. In some cases, an interdisciplinary group or pair of interns worked with a single community partner.

We are delighted to share Lillian Wilson’s blog post on the project, and we were also pleased to partner with the Clinic in August to survey the interns and assess the impact of participating in such an internship. This collaboration was part of our broader efforts to document the impact of publicly engaged humanities projects on scholars, students, and community partners. Through our partnership with Wayne State, we found that the interns feel better prepared to pursue a variety of careers, gained valuable skills, and feel more connected to their communities. 

Twenty-one of the 23 summer interns responded to the survey to tell us about their experience. Their responses largely showed that they feel better prepared to pursue a variety of careers. When asked if participating in the internship affected their career goals, 11 of the 19 question respondents told us that it changed their goal in some way. One student wrote, “Yes—I was offered the opportunity to do work outside of academia, yet incorporate my knowledge in qualitative research methodologies to help create change in the healthcare system. This applied focus helped me consider my potential outside of academia and how I might be able to utilize my skills to work directly with(in) large systems.” In this same vein, 76 percent of the surveyed interns agreed that participating in the internship made them more likely to consider careers other than tenure-track teaching. As one intern stated, “The clinic gave me more confidence in my ability to adapt my work to a wide variety of settings.” The majority of respondents agreed the internship prepared them for other steps in their careers as well: 

  • 72% feel better prepared for the academic job market
  • 85% feel better prepared for the non-academic job market 
  • 85% agreed that they have a better understanding of how they can apply their academic training to a range of jobs

As part of its innovative work, the Humanities Clinic brings together interdisciplinary teams of interns to work with community partners that might not be traditionally associated with their academic fields. This offered an understanding of what a range of academic disciplines could bring to community-based work. An intern highlighted the value of such experience: “I found the internship to be a cross-disciplinary experience, giving me the opportunity to work with groups of people who I would likely not have encountered in my academic program or in other internships. I feel it was beneficial to be exposed to types of projects which were more adjacent to my field, rather than directly expected in my field.” 

Finally, the interns also indicated that the focus on community engagement was particularly valuable. Ninety-five percent of the surveyed interns agreed that they feel more connected to their community after completing the internship. As one student poignantly noted, “I understand how an education in the humanities can be put to use in the community. Prior to this internship I viewed my skills as purely academic.” Another intern noted that the internship “has given me a more clear sense of what meeting the needs of the community you serve looks like.” 

Leonard Cassuto recently wrote about the value of graduate internships for the students themselves in the Chronicle of Higher Education, ending his piece by stating that “we should think of internship programs as one of our most fundamental, necessary, and worthy investments.” Our Humanities Clinic survey reinforces this message. One intern perfectly summarized why this work is valuable for both students and their communities: “This internship deeply inspired me and made me realize how essential the work of community partners and activists is to improve and positively impact the lives of the people in their communities. This was both an eye opener and a reminder of the necessity and responsibility that one bears to exercise his/her citizenry.”


Photo Credit

Thumbnail Image: Image courtesy of Wayne State University.

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Documenting Impact