Internship at SIMHE-UniPID, my learning experiences

June 16, 2016

The author, Melissa Gonzalez Soto performed her internship in UniPID at the Supporting Immigrants in Higher Education in Finland (SIMHE) project during past May-June. In her internship report she reflects on her expectations, learning outcomes and working experiences with the UniPID team.

Internship at SIMHE-UniPID, my learning experiences

The author, Melissa Gonzalez Soto is a Master´s student of the Erasmus Mundus Masters Course: "Master in Research and Innovation in Higher Education” — MARIHE program. During the past May-June, Melissa performed her internship in UniPID at the Supporting Immigrants in Higher Education in Finland (SIMHE) project. Here she shares her reflections as intern.

Internship at UniPID: Stand on the giants´ shoulders

How do we measure the impact of an academic program? How do programs provide support for the professional involvement of students? Are academic programs appealing for the job market? Internship experience is probably one of the answers to such questions. An internship is one of the most relevant means to involve the student into the field, while the sector benefits from the fresh knowledge and skills of the young professional; and, he or she is also getting first-hand training from the organization and leaders in the area.

Aware of the benefits and students’ development, MARIHE includes in its program an internship, which prepares the student in the environment of research and innovation in higher education. In the middle of the program, we are sent to diverse organizations to apply our knowledge and learn by doing. The hosting organizations are all over Europe and Africa.

When I applied for the master program I was asked one question: what would you do differently in your home university? One of my answers was to build a university network where Higher Education Institutions could cooperate and have common projects. When I applied for my internship placement I found UniPID as the appealing option where I could learn about a successful implementation of a university network, collaborate and imagine one in the Mexican context. UniPID is indeed a university network, but the expertise, the professionals working there and the ongoing projects made my internship experience a fruitful process for learning also about Erasmus + projects, Finnish National initiatives, cooperation with Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, team leadership and development and, a sneak peek to one of the most prestigious universities in Finland: the University of Jyväskylä.

What is UniPID and what did I do there?

The Finnish University Partnership for International Development (UniPID) describes itself as a partnership network between nine Finnish universities. It provides network support to carry global responsibility actions to strengthen the interdisciplinary education, research and societal impact of the universities. For me, UniPID is an interinstitutional unit that provides sustainable actions for the development and strengthening of the missions of Finnish Universities in a global context; it acts as a coordinating agency where the universities join forces to tackle societal challenges with the best of their academic community.

The network is an example of intrapreneurship: development and innovations of committed people inside the institutions. The UniPID team is composed of entrepreneurs who build networks all over the world, critical minds who untangle challenges and design strategies to tackle them by identifying the talents inside Finnish universities. My background as a social entrepreneur, and the mission and vision of UniPID matched immediately. I had the chance to observe different levels of implementation, project management and collaboration.

I had three central activities: support for the Erasmus + Key Action 3 writing proposal, contact with internal and external stakeholders of SIMHE project, and development of materials. So, I learned in practice how to develop a proposal, network and joint strategies. I also had the chance to read former Horizon 2020 proposals that had been granted, to make questions with the responsibilities of such success and even get to know the common challenges. This contextual experience has improved my understanding on how the European Union and its organisms work. I also very much enjoyed the fieldtrips to a Reception Centre and to a multicultural meeting place called Info-Gloria and the meetings with the stakeholders.

The challenges with a hectic working environment

UniPID´s work is based on the ongoing projects. At the heart of the universities it behaves differently compared to an academic unit, and it is difficult to estimate the workload of a particular period of time beforehand. It is possible to have a general idea of the activities that an intern could perform but the situation may change between the plans and the implementation. In my case the application for the Erasmus + project had to be prioritized and therefore it took 50% of my internship. Maybe next year it can be another application, the development of trainings or virtual studies support. This is the nature of UniPID: it really awakens the entrepreneurial spirit of the individuals in the team. However sometimes it can be difficult if your mentor is travelling elsewhere when you need her.

As a result I have now experience with Erasmus + applications, the SIMHE services, a little bit of virtual studies and website management. What I missed was to learn more about FINCEAL+, but then again, 6 weeks is a short time.

Closure with an opportunity to interact, learn and share

One of the most encouraging things in internships is the opportunity to create, interact and learn and share. My mentors were aware of this and so during my last week they invited me to take part in the Erasmus Staff Week, hosted by the University of Jyväskylä, where I could join the track "Student life: paving the path for student success”, this experience was full of insights, discoveries and discussion with practitioners in the area of guidance, counseling and student support from Belgium, France, Italy, Germany and Finland.

During my Master studies I had learned about the poll of different Higher Education systems in Europe, and during this staff week I was able to learn firsthand about them. Indeed there are differences in the educational systems, in their shape and structure, and in the offering and delivery of the services. For instance, in some cases the guidance and counseling units have the goal of preventing drop out, whereas in other institutions the service is more focused on career development, mental health, or the fulfillment of the student experience. The University of Jyväskylä presented their initiative "Student life”, a comprehensive project to strengthen the already existent services, with innovations and development of cooperation between internal and external stakeholders. The main areas of this project cover the attraction of students, widening the access, study flexibility, student's well-being (physical and mental health, academic support) and employability. One of the highlights was the implementation of the Student Ambassadors project, where a select group of Finnish and International students perform as human bridges between prospective students in the secondary schools and the University of Jyväskylä; these students provide their help to those pupils who approach them either by social network, in open university days or in universities’ fairs. To sum up I consider that I had a great internship with a golden lock closing.

Melissa Gonzales Soto