First question: How do you feel about intern (or peer advisor) training? For most of us, it comes at a time when we are already super-busy gearing up for the start of a new semester/year, and while student staff turnover can bring fresh ideas and energy to the office, the reality for advisors is that student training can be time-consuming and repetitive. When you have explained office protocol for the 9th, 22nd, and 44th time, you probably aren’t doing so with the same enthusiasm as the first time, and it’s likely that your new students notice.
Second question: Throughout the semester, do you find yourself wondering if students remember anything from the initial training? Do you shake your head at their inability to perform basic office skills? (Okay, that was three questions.) If you answered no, I’m jealous, and you’re lucky. As I touched on in a previous post, it can difficult to strike the balance between a “tough love” attitude and viewing a failure to meet expectations as a learning opportunity.
The solution that my colleague Korbin Dimmick and I developed? Battle of the Interns, or BOI! Don’t worry – we aren’t pitting our students against each other in a fight-to-the-death match where the winner earns the favor of the advisors that week. What we are doing is employing a bit of friendly competition to re-enforce the policies covered on the first day as well as enhance certain professional skills that will help the students transition to their first full-time position after graduation. Plus, it shakes things up and adds some harmless entertainment for the advisors.
We knew we were on to something when one of our former students told us that one of our challenges was something similar to what she was asked to do in a Teach for America interview and that she performed better because of the prior preparation. (She was later awarded a position.)
Korbin and I recently presented a session on this topic at the NAFSA Region VII Conference, and you can check out the full details here. In short, the “battle” takes place throughout the semester, with challenges being completed every other week during our weekly intern meetings. To pump up the excitement, we play a snip of our chosen BOI theme song before each challenge and occasionally bring in small prizes.
The foundation of each challenge is the acquisition or enhancement of a certain skill, such as written and oral communication, event planning, teamwork, and problem-solving. The challenges can be individual or collaborative, vary in length (usually 5-15 minutes), and result in ideas to benefit or enhance the office. We make an effort to balance the number of administrative-type challenges with the ones that are more fun, and we strategically choose challenges to play to the strengths and weaknesses of all of our interns so that the “star” doesn’t always win and the “needs improvement” student doesn’t feel targeted.
At the end of the semester, we oversee the final challenge: an obstacle course of tasks, which include answering a couple of reflection questions to provide feedback on BOI and the internship in general. We adjust challenges every semester based on this feedback and on each intern’s specific need for improvement.
You may be thinking, “What’s the point, though? That sounds like a lot of work, and you should know education abroad advisors don’t have enough time as it is to finish all of their ‘to-do’ items. How can I justify devoting time to something that doesn’t seem to directly benefit the office and/or support the office mission?” In response, I say great questions, but we’ve seen a number of benefits for the office:
As for the time issue, I say touché, but we’ve developed the program over a few years, a little at a time, and are firm believers that sharing is caring. If you’re interested, we’d be happy to share some of our materials, and you can adjust them to work for your office.
After checking out the challenges we’ve used in the past (in the presentation linked above), are there any you think would work well for your team? Do you have suggestions for new challenges?