Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Dr. H. Quincy Brown

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Heather Annulis

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. John Kmiec Jr.

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Dr. Dale Lunsford

Committee Member 4 School


Committee Member 5

Dr. Bradley Winton

Committee Member 5 School



Underemployment and unemployment are issues college graduates confront. Presently, 41% of U.S. recent graduates experience underemployment, and recent college graduates' unemployment rate surpasses those for the general American population (Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2021b). Additionally, events like the COVID-19 pandemic emphasize job insecurity. Job insecurity highlights the importance of networking, filling as many as 85% of today’s job openings (Frost, 2019). The most common form of work-integrated learning, internships, can be an ideal strategy for accessing the hidden job network and attaining other employment outcomes while in the workforce. This study investigates the value of internships in developing social capital as perceived by participants of internships.

Furthermore, this study aimed to determine whether networks developed through internships result in value for graduates once in the labor market. The network approach of social capital theory serves as the main theoretical framework for the study as presented by Granovetter (1973, 1974) and Lin (1999, 2001). This study also acknowledges human capital theory as a foundational theory for studying and understanding internships. This study employed an explanatory sequential mixed methods approach to fulfill the purpose of the study, which occurred in two phases. Phase I (quantitative) consisted of distributing a survey to southern region chapter members of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR), which yielded 123 participants. Phase II (qualitative) consisted of semi-structured interviews to explain and expand the quantitative results. From Phase I, 13 participants participated in the interviews. The quantitative data results indicated no significant relationship between internship participation and job finding through social capital. However, seven main themes emerged from a thematic analysis of the interview data. These themes included skill development, experience, network exposure, learning, professional development, internship structural characteristics, and the intern’s behavior and intentions. Connection, learn, work, openness, location, profession, and industry are sub-themes under the main theme of intern’s behavior and intentions. Overall findings suggest that (a) internships may play a role in developing social capital but remain secondary to human capital development, (b) structural characteristics and the intern's behavior and intentions influenced the role and value of internships in developing social capital, and (c) the networks established during the internships were considered weak ties only suitable for their first position, or if they remained in that industry or geographic location, the contact became a stronger tie.

In light of these findings, one recommendation is to incorporate human and social capital developmental strategies at the outset of internship programmatic building efforts. A second recommendation is to create a universal framework for designing internships that incorporate the desirable outcomes for all stakeholders. One final recommendation suggests stakeholders spend time discussing and mapping out expectations at the outset of the opportunity. In summary, this research emphasizes designing effective internships to provide college students with the necessary human and social capital for employment outcomes. Also, this study catalyzes future research on internships broadly and in the context of social capital.

Keywords: social capital theory, internships, employment outcomes



Available for download on Thursday, December 31, 2026