“This is not just classroom learning, but world learning”- Interview with one of the first contributors of HOD

Nina Martin, a faculty member in the Human Development Counseling department at Vanderbilt, speaks about her experience contributing to the development of the HOD program, which was called “HD” at the time.

The Early Years:
  • Founder: Bob Innes
  • Called “HD”- the organizational development piece came later, and thus it became “HOD”
  • About 25 students total (it grew to 300 in just 4 years!)
  • Initial Goal: Think about what makes a good learning experience and how to systematically support and document it to ensure that it is of the highest caliber possible.
Interview with Nina Martin:


Nina Martin


Q: How has the HOD Internship Program changed over the years? How has the coursework/requirements of the program changed since the program’s inception?

It has become more organized and systematic with greater numbers of assignments and structure to enhance the academic portion of the experience. The number of sites increases seemingly yearly, especially as more sites in cities outside of Nashville catch on to this opportunity.

Q: What did you hope interns would gain from this experience? Is this still the vision for our interns today?

Ideally, students will gain a sense of what it actually means to be in the world as the program is applied in nature. Students will gain an understanding of how organizations work, use research to inform real-world application, and close the gap between academic and applied experiences so that each one enhances the other and ultimately expands critical thinking. These experiences inform research while research simultaneously informs students as to the best ways in which they can understand and impact organizations. Nina’s hope for students is: “you will apply what you are learning in a real life laboratory out in the world”.

Q: How has the job market changed as far as where we place interns?

It now seems to be more important to be able to read organizations quickly and effectively; with high job turnover, it is critical for new employees and interns to integrate into the organization quickly, conduct a needs assessment, be a team player, and move forward as needed.

Q: What skills should interns focus on building during their site experience?

Academic skills, such as learning about how organizations work, what developmental stages people are organizations are in, enhancing critical thinking, practicing public speaking and giving presentations, and continuing to work on writing skills; creativity; flexibility; adaptability; sense of humor (key!); and the ability to learn and receive feedback.

Q: In your opinion, what are the strongest qualities of the HOD Internship Program? What sets it apart?

First and foremost, it is academic in nature, and rigorous at that. This is not just an internship but an experience grounded in intentionality around creating thoughtful and prepared students whose skills include ethics and organizational development, to name a few. Students produce goods in the form of a portfolio, project, and other elements along the way to end their culminating capstone. Thus, they are able to prove learning through documentation and, with the help of distinguished professors, are appropriately critical of what they learn.

Q: How do you think this sort of internship prepares students for future occupations?

It is hard to imagine how this program wouldn’t enhance your potential to work in any job as it provides students ways to learn how to integrate themselves rapidly and identify needs within organizations, while understanding how to apply best practices from research in the service of enhancing those organizations. The skills learned in this program carry forth if integrated well.

Q: If you were to describe the HOD Internship Program to an individual not familiar with it, how would you describe it?

It is an experience that prepares students to be thoughtful, responsible, and intelligent citizens and integrate themselves into the communities and organizations they want to affect. Students are emerging scholars and continually think about how to help people in an intentional, systematic way. Students are able to think about what makes a good boss, a good leader, and a good organizational member and team player, all of which one cannot learn solely in a class, but must also experience in order to internalize.

Nina’s closing words… “You might be changed by the experience as much as you may change the organization itself.”