Optimize Your Degree with a Safety Internship

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Undergraduate and graduate students may not realize how important an internship could be toward optimizing their degree. An internship is a huge opportunity for a student to both learn and get his/her career moving forward. This article will introduce internships, explain their many advantages and suggest ways to find one.

What Is an Internship?

The terms “internship” and “co-op” will often appear together in the results from a quick internet search. For occupational safety, the two terms are interchangeable, though some differences may exist for other professions. On a larger scale, internships fall within an educational method referred to variously as work-integrated learning, experiential education and the like (Gardner & Bartkus, 2014). Regardless of the terminology, the purpose of an internship is to provide a real-world learning experience to students in their fields of study.

The Internship Process

At Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), internships are conducted as a joint venture between the student intern, host employer, faculty internship coordinator, and the EKU Center for Career and Co-op. Each of these parties has its own role in the process. Most of the approval process and documentation on the internship occurs within an online system called Handshake, which is administered by the Center for Career and Co-op.

The student intern typically starts the process by finding and applying for an internship vacancy advertised by the host employer. Finding an internship is discussed more below, but once the host employer has agreed to hire the student intern, the ball really gets rolling.

The host employer will provide key details about the internship, such as hours, duties, location, contact information, etc., for EKU to review prior to allowing the internship. After the internship concludes, the host employer uploads in Handshake the student intern’s timesheet and provides feedback regarding the student’s performance.

The faculty internship coordinator is a professor who will review the details of the internship to ensure that it will provide an appropriate occupational safety experience prior to granting approval. In some cases, the faculty internship coordinator may require that the student intern complete an assignment such as special project or a paper summarizing the experience. For most internships, a letter grade is assigned based on the feedback by the host employer about the student intern’s performance.

The last step in setting up the internship occurs when staff from the EKU Center for Career and Co-op register the student for the appropriate course so academic credit hours will be provided from the internship. The courses are OSH 349 and SSE 839 for undergraduate and graduate students, respectively.

Once the approval process is completed, the student can then work the internship like a normal job; working set hours, reporting to a supervisor and performing whatever safety-related job task s/he is assigned. After the internship is over, the student completes a self-evaluation.

Student Prerequisites

  • 2.0+ GPA
  • Declared major
  • 15+ credit hours completed


  • 8+ weeks (summer term)
  • 10+ week (fall or spring term)
  • Only one internship per term
  • 80+ work hours per credit hour must be completed

Internships are not allowed for positions which are:

  • Direct sales or independent contract work
  • Elected or appointed positions in organizations/clubs/etc.
  • Supervised by family members or other students

What are the advantages of an internship?

Pay is good for interns, with the average intern’s wages reported at $19.05 per hour according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (2019). Opportunities are abundant, as 70% of employers have reported that they offer paid internships (Michigan State University, Collegiate Employment Research Institute, 2016).

Why are employers offering so much to interns? Because it’s well worth the cost. Hosting an intern allows the employer to closely evaluate the student as a potential permanent employee. The eight or more weeks of time spent with the student intern allows the employer to really get to know that individual under actual work conditions. It’s exponentially better than a one- to two-hour interview. Many host employers offer additional incentives to attract the best student interns. Housing costs during the internship, travel to and from the worksite, paid holidays and other similar benefits are not unusual.

A huge benefit to taking a safety internship is being able to directly learn about the field of occupational safety. The student intern becomes a part of the employer’s safety and health program and can see how it is administered, the types of protective equipment used, safe work practices utilized and many other aspects of the operation. One EKU student intern who went on to a full-time position with a successful construction firm summed it up nicely: “Internships are where you gain knowledge.”

Another benefit of an internship is that student interns can get a better idea of the type of job they prefer to pursue. For example, the student comes to realize his/her preference of one industrial setting over the other, such as the variety of the construction field over a fixed manufacturing facility. An internship provides the direct experience to help make major career decisions like this.

Perhaps the biggest advantage for some student interns is that they will already have a foot in the door. Some employers seek to establish a solid relationship with student interns by setting up back-to-back internships with the same students over several terms. This allows the employer to groom the student toward full-time employment, teaching them their company’s management system and processes over each internship until the student graduates. The company can then hire someone who is already trained and ready to take on more significant job duties.

Finding a Safety Internship

Students at EKU are encouraged to use the Handshake system to locate safety internships. Handshake provides a listing of internships posted by employers across the country. Students can search internship openings based on parameters like location, pay or term, and apply for those of interest. EKU students are provided a free Handshake account when they enroll, and assistance is available from the EKU Center for Career and Co-op.

Internship openings such as those listed on services like Indeed.com, Monster.com and Ziprecruiter.com are also an option. Another good source of safety-related internships is provided by the American Society of Safety Professionals at https://jobs.assp.org/. For internships established outside of Handshake, EKU will help with the setup, but this must be done in advance. Students may not start an internship without first going through the approval process discussed above.

Job/internship fairs may also offer the opportunity to identify internship opportunities. EKU hosts two per year (Spring/Fall) as do most other colleges. Cities, local agencies and other organizations also host job fairs which could offer internship opportunities. Job fair advertisements may not specifically mention internships, but employers who attend them may be open to the prospect. In fact, you may be able to identify an internship by asking for one.

For undergraduate and graduate students, an internship can provide substantial benefits. The pay and other tangible benefits offered by many employers are an indication of the value they place on safety internships. Student interns also get the added benefit of getting to directly work in the field of occupational safety, which is an invaluable learning experience.

Finding a safety internship is typically like finding a job; conducting a search, identifying an internship opening, completing an application and so on. This can sound challenging, but students can get help and guidance from their academic adviser, professors, family and classmates who have already completed an internship. EKU students also have the Center for Career and Co-op to help them find and apply for internships. There are too many advantages to pass up a safety internship (or two).


David Stumbo

Dr. David Stumbo


American Society of Safety Professionals. (n.d.). ASSP Career Center. https://jobs.assp.org/.

Eastern Kentucky University Center for Career & Co-op. (n.d.). Co-Op/Internship/Experiential Learning Guidelines

Eastern Kentucky University Center for Career & Co-op. (n.d.). Center for Career & Co-op. https://careercoop.eku.edu/

Gardner, P., & Bartkus, K. R. (2014). What’s in a Name? A Reference Guide to Work-Education Experiences. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 15(1), 37–54

Handshake. (n.d.). Get On Handshake. https://career-coop.eku.edu/get-handshake

Michigan State University, C. E. R. I. (2016). Recruiting Trends, 2016-2017. 46th Edition. Brief 6: Internships & Co-Ops. Collegiate Employment Research Institute. Collegiate Employment Research Institute. Retrieved from http://www.ceri.msu.edu/recruiting-trends-2019-20/

National Association of Colleges and Employers (2019). 2019 Internship & Co-Op Survey Report Executive Summary. Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/uploadedfiles/files/2019/publication/executive-summary/2019-naceinternship-and-co-op-survey-executive-summary.pdf