Jennifer Saxon and Kristina Phillips

Study on Internships at UM Earns National Honors

Staff members Kristina Phillips and Jennifer Saxon research access and equity for students

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi staff members Kristina Phillips and Jennifer Saxon have been honored with the "Dissertation of the Year" award by the National Society for Experiential Education.

The NSEE is a nonprofit organization of educators, businesses, and community leaders invested in the development of education programs that offer learning experiences outside the traditional classroom.

The dissertation, "Increasing Access to High-Impact Practices: A Case Study on Internships at the University of Mississippi," examined the barriers to experiential learning opportunities faced by African American students and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Both Saxon and Phillips recognized challenges faced by students and chose to explore those challenges that were deterring students from participating in crucial career internship experiences, said Laura Antonow, UM director of college programs.

"Minority and low-income students already face barriers in higher education as well as limited access to educational enhancements such as experiential learning," Antonow said.

"This research provides the data to support assumptions that many internship administrators already have regarding inequities in experiential learning opportunities and proves that these issues must be intentionally addressed by education institutions."

Phillips and Saxon received funding from the B.A. Rudolph Foundation last spring that helped sponsor their research.

Phillips serves as assistant director of college programs in the UM Division of Outreach and Continuing Education. She helps oversee the university's Internship Experience Program, Study USA program and iStudy online program.

Saxon is associate athletics director for student-athlete enhancement in the Ole Miss Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. She also works to provide student-athletes with opportunities to prepare for life after college, including internship and career prep activities.

Since both Phillips' and Saxon's work focuses on providing career opportunities, as doctoral students they decided research in this area would be beneficial to both their education and their departments.

"We wanted to reflect the student voice of our research population, and it was helpful to talk to over 60 students about their perspective on internships at UM," Phillips said. "Because students were willing to share their experiences, we were able to accumulate suggestions on how to support them while pursuing internships."

Phillips and Saxon successfully defended their dissertation last spring and received their doctoral degrees in higher education in August 2018. They are preparing to share their findings not only with officials at UM, but also on a national stage.

They recently were invited to speak at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education, as well as the NSEE conference in the fall.

"We are now trying to figure out how to leverage our research to really tell the stories of the students we interviewed for this study," Saxon said.

"Their experiences were so impactful, and our belief is that by getting our work out there and sharing these stories, it will only help propel the academic work that is being done on our campuses to improve the value of experiential learning opportunities for students around the country."