Transforming Education and Empowering Students: The Impact of Summer Internships

by | Nov 17, 2023 | Student engagement, Student partnership

Written by Steven Urwin, based on an interview with Martin Simmons.


In 2018, a transformative programme took shape within the University of Manchester’s School of Engineering. The passion project of Martin Simmons, Lecturer in Mechanical and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester. In his quest as a dedicated educator with a passion for innovation, Martin’s program aimed to provide students with a unique opportunity to enhance their skills and contribute meaningfully to their education. This blog will delve into the inception and evolution of this remarkable initiative, exploring its successes, the skills it imparts to students, challenges encountered along the way, its role in improving teaching and learning, and the important aspect of social responsibility. 

The Birth of the Program 

Martin’s first experience of summer internships came when he was academic lead for the Formula Student team (a project in which student’s design and build a single-seater racing car). Students approached him with the idea of working on these cars during the summer break. Martin used the existing MACE program as a solid foundation, requiring minimal effort to set things in motion. However, it was subsequently restructured under the School of Engineering, streamlining its operations. 

Enhancing Teaching and Learning 

Martin’s experiences as a teacher at various institutions after completing his PhD have informed his approach to education. He recognizes the importance of active learning, where students engage in activities rather than passively listening to lectures. This shift from lecturer-led to student-centred learning aligns with research indicating that attention spans are limited to around 20 minutes. Feedback from his own students indicated that they find this approach enjoyable, which enhances their learning experience. 

Past Successes 

In our recent interview, Martin recounted one of the program’s significant successes was a research project and how it could help other students at University of Manchester. One of Martin’s students undertook an investigation into the peer support available to engineering students. This investigation led to the development of an action plan for enhancing peer support within the faculty, subsequently impacting the Foundation Studies programme. Building on this success, Martin has been collaborating with PASS coordinators and leaders to implement a peer mentoring program in foundation studies—a pioneering initiative for the university. 

Skills for Employment 

As many students are increasing looking to employability from their degrees, summer internship programs are ideal as they equip students with vital skills for their future careers. Participants are given the responsibility to work independently on projects, often requiring collaboration with peers. Over the course of completing one, students learn to improve their communication skills, promoting planning and organizational skills. In fact, one of the first exercises that Martin asks of his students is to plan out their own internship as this will let them learn to gage time and implement their own planning to varying degrees of success. The program’s aim is to provide a balanced experience, not overly generalized but not excessively specific, ensuring students gain valuable, versatile knowledge. 

Challenges in Evaluation 

Over the years, challenges in the evaluation process have surfaced such as students sometimes setting themselves unrealistic objectives within the timeframe. The six-week duration helps them understand their project’s scope realistically. Additionally, when interns were tasked with creating teaching resources, initially, they had too much freedom, leading to resources that weren’t as relevant. Martin has found that when a more prescriptive approach was adopted, it yielded more useful resources that could be incorporated into teaching. One big take away fellow lecturers can adapt from Martin’s Internships is an emphasis being placed on tangible outputs that can be applied in future teaching. These outputs, whether physical or virtual, serve as valuable resources for educators in the subsequent academic year. 

Fostering Social Responsibility 

One of Martin’s core beliefs is that internships can contribute to public engagement and outreach. He has been involved in teaching at schools across Greater Manchester and envisions adapting the internship model to produce engaging outreach resources for school students. Social responsibility extends beyond outreach and encompasses diversity and equality of opportunity. To ensure inclusivity, Martin has applied a rigorous application process that has been introduced by the School of Engineering, moving away from the traditional approach where academics simply nominate students. The post is advertised, students apply, and the Student Experience team in the School of Engineering have to shortlist the applications before the video interviews where those chosen answer questions. It is then Martin and his fellow academic’s role to review the video interviews and make sure this is the fairest process it can be. This fair and competitive selection process makes internships more valuable to participants. 

The School of Engineering’s summer internship program is a testament to the power of innovative thinking and dedication to student development. Martin’s vision has not only empowered students with valuable skills but also improved teaching and promoted social responsibility. As the program continues to evolve, it serves as a shining example of how educational initiatives can positively impact students, educators, and society. 

Further reading/resources:  




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