Integrating Ethics Into the Internship Curriculum

The University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) College of Business stresses the importance of ethical conduct and has worked to integrate ethics and ethics based decision making within the College’s culture and curriculum.

Meghan StiddIt was a conversation that I had been anxiously anticipating. A few days prior, a student sent me an obscure message stating that she was having an issue with her internship. She did not want to provide details via email, but requested an urgent meeting.

I spent the first ten minutes of the meeting actively listening and observing the non-verbal cues of the intern. She was obviously distraught and uncomfortable with her current employer. The intern shared that her employer informed her that he would be terminating her supervisor and another intern within the next few months. The employer then informed the intern that he would be promoting her to her supervisor's position. To prepare her for the promotion, the employer asked the intern to secretly shadow her supervisor so that she could learn his role. The employer asked her not to raise suspicion and he emphasized that he expected her discretion as a condition of the promotion.

The intern was very conflicted. She respected her supervisor and was loyal to him and the other intern. She had very little interaction with the organization's leadership prior to the request and she rightfully felt that she was being asked to engage in unethical behavior that conflicted with her personal morals. The student was faced with an ethical dilemma and was seeking my advice on how to proceed.

Luckily, I was prepared to address this type of issue. The University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) College of Business stresses the importance of ethical conduct and has worked to integrate ethics and ethics based decision making within the College's culture and curriculum. The internship program is no exception. All interns and employers are required to sign an ethics agreement, outlining the College's expectations regarding ethical behavior, prior to the start of any internship. The employer's request was clearly a violation of this agreement.

The College of Business hosts the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at UCCS, which is a resource for principle-based ethics education. The Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at UCCS promotes integrity, trust, accountability, transparency, fairness, respect, rule of law, and viability. The ethics agreement developed for the internship program was derived from and reflects these principles. The agreement is used as a mechanism to ensure UCCS College of Business students obtain expose to real-world business practices that are ethical and align with moral standards of the College. If what the intern shared with me was an accurate representation of the employer's actions, then this employer was certainly not meeting the ethical standards of the internship program.

Rather than intervening for the intern, I used the experience as a learning opportunity. I reminded the student of the ethics agreement. We reviewed the contract together and discussed the various ways in which the employer was violating the agreement. We then engaged in a mock discussion where I was the employer and she was confronting me regarding the agreement and my actions. The intern left my office with a copy of the ethics agreement, signed by her and the employer, and the sense of empowerment she needed to resolve the situation herself. The intern was able to successfully complete her internship and the employer now has a clear understanding of the ethical foundation required to continue to have a relationship with the UCCS College of Business.

If your internship program is in need of an ethical component, I highly suggest reviewing the principles of the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at UCCS as a starting point. Integrating ethics into your internship program protects all parties involved and provides clear standards for students and participating businesses. The ethics agreement is one small example of how the College of Business and the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at UCCS partner to ensure that students graduate with the ability to identify ethical concerns and have the tools to resolve and diffuse ethical dilemmas. In a world where ethical challenges are more abundant than ever before, it is increasingly important to ensure that students are provided with the ethical foundation necessary to be successful in their careers.

AUTHOR: Meghan Stidd is the Program Director for the Career Development Center, College of Business at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Meghan is a state representative for CEIA region 6. She can be reached at  

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