How do students find and finance their internships?

By MEAGAN PEOPLES | March 8, 2018

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The Career Center aims to provide resources and grants for internships.

This month, many Hopkins students will be applying for summer internships, both paid and unpaid. The News-Letter sat down with three students who reflected on their experiences finding and funding internships.

Junior Amy Chi worked last summer as an intern for Diamond Security Incorporated, a security services business. While she was not a salaried employee, Chi received a stipend. Though the work she was doing did not exactly match with her field of interest, Chi said that she had a good experience.

“I got to know the engineers in the company, and they were all super helpful and willing to answer my questions and taught me about their everyday life and what their responsibilities were,” Chi said. 

Junior Emily Tatum, an International Studies and sociology double major, spent last fall interning at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the recommendation of a past coworker. Tatum recommended finding internships through this sort of networking.

“I feel like if you enjoy your internship and it’s a good experience and there are other people recommending other programs, it’s probably going to be up your alley as well,” she said.

Tatum lived and worked in Washington, D.C. as a student participating in the Aitchison Public Service Fellowship. She had a job at a coffee shop in D.C. in addition to her UNHCR internship and stated that working while undertaking an unpaid internship was beneficial for her. Balancing these two responsibilities, she said, made her realize that she was truly determined to pursue her career goals.

“If you are going to take on an unpaid internship and you know you are going to work part time, you actually have to enjoy that internship enough and you have to want it enough,” she said.

While Tatum enjoyed her internship experience, she also said that it was difficult to work for a total of 33 hours a week, while also taking classes. She believes that unpaid internships perpetuate class inequality.

“Let’s say you get an offer in California and you don’t have friends or family to stay with there, and if you don’t have the money there’s no way you can do it,” she said. “Whereas maybe someone who is from a higher socioeconomic class, who is your peer, would be able to do it. Then they hire that person instead and all of a sudden that person has a great internship on their resume and then has better post-college prospects.”

Isabella Alther, a junior classics major, shared these sentiments and acknowledged that her own socioeconomic status allowed her to take on an unpaid internship. Two summers ago, Alther interned for the Museum of the City of New York. 

“I do come from a place of privilege where I could do those internships, so even though I wanted to work at the same time I didn’t necessarily have to do that,” she said. 

She also reflected on the lack of racial diversity in her past internship.

When asked about resources targeted towards helping those of lower socioeconomic status, Assistant Director of Internship Programs for the Career Center Ciara Flowers spoke about both Federal Work Study as well as the Second Decade Society Grant.

“The Second Decade Society summer internship program awards students $3,000 to $5,000 based on their need. So if students have a financial aid package they will provide them with $5,000 for their internship. For other students it will be about $3,000,” Flowers said.

The Second Decade Society receives a certain budgeted amount and will fund as many students as possible. This past year they funded 19 students but have historically been able to fund as many as 50. 

Federal Work Study is a program which allows students receiving federal aid to pursue part-time employment while enrolled in university. Through this program, between 70 to 100 percent of a students salary can be paid using federal money. This would allow a non-profit or other organization, which ordinarily only offers unpaid internships, the ability to pay student interns a salary.

Alayna Hayes, interim director of employee relations and market development for the Career Center, also offered some advice for students working unpaid internships.

“Some advice for those students is to also think about having the conversation with that particular employer about what can they negotiate for. It might be worthwhile to ask for, maybe they can’t pay a salary because that’s too much for the whole summer but maybe they can provide a travel stipend,” Hayes said.

Tatum tried to use the Career Center to find grants to fund a past internship but did not have a satisfying experience. She went on to argue that there are more grant opportunities for STEM or research fields than are available for those working in non-profit or public sector fields.

“I’d say that most of the Hopkins grant money is made directly for research. And obviously research is important, but off the top of my head I could probably list seven different grants I could apply to if I was planning on doing research this summer, and there was only two to three grants that I am able to apply to for this internship,” Tatum said.

Hayes however argues that in fact, there is more money available for those working in non-STEM fields.

“A lot of the funds are for ‘humanities’ majors. They are not necessarily geared towards STEM,” she said. “The STEM industry, it just generally pays more.”

Alther on the other hand, praised the Career Center for the change in how they approached the humanities in recent years, specifically citing the arts and non-profit career weeks.

“They are really growing how they approach students in the humanities a lot better. Even since we’ve been here in just the last two years,” she said. 

Hayes echoed this sentiment. 

“We are working hard because we’ve heard [humanities students say] that they haven’t been getting support,” she said. “So we’re making events available for them, but I think that they still don’t realize that yet.” 

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