Rotman Reinvents The MBA Internship Model

Niki da Silva is the managing director of Rotman's full-time MBA program

Niki da Silva is the managing director of Rotman’s full-time MBA program

After a grilling from faculty over a new innovation for MBAs at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, the full-time MBA administrative team left the conference room with glum faces.

Jan Mahrt-Smith, academic director of Rotman’s full-time MBA offering, led the presentation on a chlly February day earlier this year. The novel idea was to turn the traditional summer internship on its head. Mahrt-Smith proposed that internships become a required academic course that students could take in either the fall or winter/spring terms as well as the summer.

Some of the faculty’s objections were legitimate. Offering year-round internships meant that some professors would have to teach during the summer months when they are typically off. It also would require to give up at least one elective course to make room for the coursework accompanying the new internship model.


But the team, which included Niki da Silva, the managing director of the full-time program, and Karen Jackson-Cox, director of the MBA Career Center, argued that the idea was a “game-changer.” The group marshalled many persuasive reasons for the change. Students who had internships were three times more likely to get a full-time job within 90 days of graduation than those who didn’t get the chance to intern. Allowing year-round internships in the second year would result in a significant increase in those opportunities, with greater chances to convert those experiences into full-time job offers.

A survey of 50 companies by Jackson-Cox, who originally dreamt up the idea, found that the school was missing out on a lot of opportunities by only allowing students to do internships in the summer. “There is more real work and less make work at most firms in every other cycle of the year other than the summer,” says da Silva.

But the real innovation was integrating the internship with a new course called “Applied Management: Placement,” an offering designed to reinforce the important learnings from the first year core curriculum with practical application, active mentoring from an executive-in-residence, and a required post-internship reflection. “It will be a powerful change,” adds da Silva, “because we’ve had this strange segmented approach of class work and an internship. Now we’ll have a course that will teach you how to show up and immediately add value and then reflect on the experience. That is the missing piece at most business schools. Those two pieces are not connected generallly, but this puts them together.”


Shortly after the grueling faculty session, the professors ultimately approved the idea. This is the latest innovation from Rotman which has carved out a reputation for being one of the more innovative busness schools in the world. Under Dean Roger Martin, the school pioneered the notion of integrative thinking as well as business design. It was also the first to use video interviews in MBA admissions, a practice since taken up by several other schools, including Yale University’s School of Management and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Already, says Mahrt-Smith, two-thirds of the class has since voluntarily opted into the first go-round, to have their internships turned into a full-fledged academic experience. “We want students to learn how to make themselves valuable to organizations during the internship,” he says. “So there is three hours of exercises in our self-development lab. And there’s an expereicne where students observe someone already valuable in the organization. MBAs create plans to make themselves more valuable, and there are 15-minute check-ins with coaches here and mentors on the job. When it’s over, they are asked to reflect on the experience. They keep a journal and write a final paper and discuss the journey with a coach who is an executive in residence.”

Rotman still expects the majority of its MBA students to take an internship during the summer, roughly 50% to 60%. But the school believes that up to a third of its students will now do internships in the fall with 15% to 20% taking internships in the winter.

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