University looks to double funding pool for unpaid interns

The Center for Career Services wants to raise $100,000 this year to supersize its program for paying students who take on unpaid internships.

If the center succeeds, the funding pool would double the amount for the inaugural internship grants program. It would pay for 100 students working at nonprofits or government agencies to receive an average of $1,000 per semester.

Rachel Brown, head of Career Services, said the Office of Development and Alumni Relations has taken over the fundraising effort. She added that she’s not concerned about the goal because the fund “sells itself.” Parents and alumni have already offered to donate to help students get their foot in the door at prospective jobs, she said.

“It’s important for students to be able to pursue their passion, and to not have the fact that their internship is unpaid be a deterring factor,” Brown said. “We want to be able to support students to do that.”

The University first offered the program last fall, awarding grants to 37 students. Universities like Tufts, Northwestern and Virginia run similar programs.

The fundraising effort comes at a time when unpaid internships are in a harsh spotlight – with some outrage billowing after a string of lawsuits against film and media companies this year.

Alex Munoz, who graduated with a master’s in information systems in 1994, said he donated to the fund because internship opportunities are crucial to finding a job in a sluggish economy, especially because employers look to hire people who can “hit the ground running.”

“As the economy rebounds, having a workforce that is graduating from college with the experience to succeed immediately in the area of their choosing is paramount to increasing the reputation of the school as well,” he said.

While the program is meant for students looking to break into the government and nonprofit sector, Brown said the office will also consider students who apply for small startups.

Last summer’s grant allowed Brady Baldwin, a senior economics major, to commit to an internship at the Legal Aid Society in New York City. He said he needed the grant to pay for the city’s high costs of living.

“I do think that it’s really valuable to be able to take an internship in a field that you want to pursue a career in,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t for the grant.”

Baldwin said the internship reinforced his interest in public service law, and “it also helped me start to build the skills that I will need to succeed in that field.”

Avery Jaffe, a junior political communications major, said his grant funded his internship with the Ready for Hillary Political Action Committee.

“It’s definitely something that embodies what GW is all about,” he said about the hands-on, political internships. “Converting what you learn in the classroom to make an actual impact out in D.C. or even worldwide.”

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