University to offer grants for unpaid interns

Not getting a paycheck for your internship next semester? GW wants to help.

The University will dole out grants ranging between $1,000 and $3,000 to a handful of students starting next month to open opportunities to take on unpaid positions.

Assistant Provost for University Career Services Rachel Brown said she did not yet know how many awards would be available because the office is still fundraising. She said mostly alumni and parents have contributed to the grant pool, but declined to say how much has been raised so far.

Brown, who was hired last month to head GW’s career center, said the grants are intended for students who otherwise would have turned away unpaid opportunities due to other expenses, like rent and tuition.

“There may be students who just never thought about [interning] for financial reasons, so I think it may help to broaden students’ ideas of what’s possible,” Brown said.

When picking applicants, Brown said the career center would look at students’ financial needs and the internship’s connection to each individual’s academic and career goals.

Senior Associate Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski, who has overseen the career center overhaul, called the grants “a huge resource.” He said he expects the awards to primarily go to students who earned positions in the government and in nonprofits, which do not typically pay their college staffers.

Unpaid internships, sometimes criticized as a way for employers to get around fair-wage laws, came under fire from the U.S. Department of Labor in 2010, which mandated that the work be educational.

Peer institutions like New York University give out $1,000 during fall, spring and summer semesters to students interning in industries that typically don’t have the funds to pay interns, like public service and the arts.

Two years after GW launched a task force to improve career support, the University is now at the starting line of a $20 million investment into career offices over the next decade. It also launched an overhaul last year to merge the 11 school-based career offices across GW to help students pursue interests in fields outside their majors.

Senior Devon Brown said compensation is always a factor when applying to internships, because it was hard to put in time for free. He said he wished the program existed earlier.

“It would make the internship search much less stressful, as I could focus solely on the value of the experience and would not have to take into account the money as much,” he said.

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