Confession: I’ve Failed Three Interns



If you are a regular reader, you know I am a huge proponent of internship programs. I’ve supervised nearly twenty interns in eleven academic disciplines in the last six years. Many were absolutely amazing. Others not so much. I advocate for internship programs not because I have always had fantastic experiences, but because I believe in teaching and contributing to the future workforce.

I welcomed one intern who did the bare minimum only after I reminded her and attempted to use our weekly supervision to gossip about her university. I’ve supervised an intern who opted to attend her ex-boyfriend’s court case instead of reporting to the organization on her assigned day.

I’ve also had one intern whom I provided a professional reference for and after accepting the position she hired another one of my former interns (proud mentor moment).

The title “I’ve Failed Three Interns” can be a bit confusing.  Some may read it and think that it means I failed my interns as a manager – that I was not a good manager. Others may read it and conclude that three of my interns received a failing grade in their (college) course. The latter is true.

The two interns mentioned in the examples above were not fired and did not fail their courses. After individual supervision, they made the mature decision to course correct.  The three interns who received an “F” did the following:

  1. A graduate student studying nonprofit management literally decided not to complete her internship. She did not tell me she no longer wanted to complete the internship, she just stop showing up and stopped responding to emails or phone calls after her midterm grade was submitted. She was taken aback when she failed the course.
  2. An undergraduate student was taking 21 combined credits at her university and a local community college. Stress and overwhelm led to sickness. She missed a full week of her internship. I met with her with the intention to adjust her tasks but she rejected the idea that she was overextending herself and would not be able to complete everything we had initially agreed upon. She was required to complete a twenty-page research paper based on our target population as well as observe our program participants in addition to other tasks in our home office. I did not fail this student because she was sick or overwhelmed. I didn’t even fail her because she didn’t complete all the assigned tasks (which I knew she would not). I failed her because she didn’t fulfill the requirements then claimed in her final report to her field coordinator that she was not given the information needed for the research component and was not allowed the opportunity to complete the observational component. Both were untrue.
  3. An undergraduate student in the same course as the (second) student mentioned above also lied about her experience and failed because of lack of integrity. This student also did not complete the observational piece required for this particular course so she decided to create false interactions and submit them as her field experience. The scenarios she created were not only untrue but filled with stereotypes and judgments against our program participants.


Despite these unfortunate circumstances:

  • I welcome new interns every year
  • I share my wisdom and experience generously with my interns
  • I encourage my students to complete internships
  • I advocate for more businesses and nonprofits to develop internship programs


Please contact me for assistance with help starting a new internship program, training and supervising your interns, or revamping an existing internship program.


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Nicki Sanders, The Packaged For Success Coach, is an Adjunct Professor with a passion for business and career development. She has an extensive background in developing and managing interns and successful internship programs. She is a skilled manager, coach, trainer, and group facilitator who has packaged her Master of Social Work degree and 20 years of work experience into Packaged For Success, a full service training and professional development company.

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