Exposing grad students to higher ed leadership

By Jackie C. Thomas, Jr.

A program at a Texas college provides a new pathway to community college leadership.

This summer, Lone Star College-Tomball (Texas) launched a 12-week Executive Internship Program (EIP) designed to expose graduate students interested in higher education leadership to the many opportunities that exist at the community college.  While there are several graduate-level community college leadership programs, we recognized that there needed to be an additional pathway that helped graduate students become immersed in the community college experience and learn more about the benefits of working at a community college.

Our first cohort consisted of eight students from five different universities. The interns were supervised directly by a member of the President’s Cabinet and worked on projects and initiatives that supported the students, faculty, staff and administration at LSC-Tomball.

How it works

The program targets students seeking a master’s or doctoral degree in higher education administration, community college leadership or educational leadership.  Interested students submit an online application and are interviewed by the President’s Cabinet.

Those selected are placed in one of the following areas during the summer or fall semesters: President’s Office, Instruction, Student Success, or Strategic Initiatives.  Interns have the option of choosing a paid internship experience, where they work specifically on projects at the college or an unpaid internship, where they shadow leaders on campus.  Both options can be connected to course-credit.

The EIP curriculum is based on the 3rd Edition of AACC’s Competencies for Community College Leaders.  We focused specifically on the competencies for mid-level leaders.  Each week consists of learning opportunities that are aligned with at least one of the 11 competencies.  For example, the first two weeks are focused on Institutional Infrastructure and Organizational Culture.

To better understand these competencies, interns attend our New Employee Culture Orientation, President’s Executive Cabinet Meeting, College Leadership Council Meeting, Enrollment Huddle, and a session led by our vice president of instruction, titled “Community College 101.”


Over the 12-week internship, interns are provided with a myriad of experiences to prepare them for the next steps in their career.  At the conclusion of their internship, they are responsible for putting together a presentation that highlights what they learned for each AACC Competency.

One important piece of the program is our Career Experience Day, where interns are put through a full-day of mock job interviews.

Prior to the day of interviews, interns are asked to:

  • Identify a job in which they would be interested.
  • Evaluate their professional experiences using a customized AACC Competency Guide.
  • Attend a resume, cover letter and interview workshop.
  • Revise their resume and cover letter.
  • Submit a completed application for their job of interest.

At the conclusion of the day, interns meet with the entire President’s Cabinet to reflect on the experience and discuss career goals and strategies.

Successes and challenges

This program has been an overwhelming success for both the interns and the college

 My experience as an Executive Intern at LSC-Tomball was transformational. I learned so much about the community college, open-access education, and the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It also made me more aware of who I am as a professional and helped increase my confidence as I prepare to pursue executive level positions,” says Meghan Griggs, Summer ’19 intern in the president’s office.

According to LSC-Tomball President Lee Ann Nutt, “the Executive Internship Program has given us the opportunity to attract high-quality students and expose them to community college leadership.  More importantly, it allows us to fill the leadership pipeline with graduate students who may not have ever considered the community college as a career.”

As with any new program, one major challenge is scalability. Currently, only members of the executive leadership team offer internships.  Over time (and resources permitting), it would be ideal to offer internship experiences with our deans and directors.


Jackie C. Thomas, Jr.

is chief strategist at Lone Star College-Tomball in Tomball, Texas.