Sorting out summer plans is stressful for college students who have been applying for internships to fill their summer. Political science and women and gender studies sophomore, Destinee Dickson, has started applying for internship programs in Washington D.C. in hopes of taking that first step toward her ultimate career goal: a seat on the Supreme Court.
For Dickson, her summer internship hunt poses a dilemma. Many of the government internships that would be her first pick to apply for, including the White House, Congress and Supreme Court, don’t offer paid internships. These entities told Dickson that paying an intern just isn’t in the budget for these entities and that the experience interns would receive would trump getting paid.
Although Dickson’s mother supports her plans and will help her with traveling costs, she cannot afford to pay for her daughter’s living and food expenses for the entire summer, but will help her with travel costs, Dickson said.
“It’s difficult,” she said. “I’m a black woman, so I’ve always been disadvantaged for most things in life so it’s just another obstacle that I have to work through.”
Dickson has started applying to over ten internship programs at businesses, law firms and even the Smithsonian Institute because they have a connection to the government. She believes that having even the slightest interaction with the government could get her foot in the door for future jobs in the area.
“It’s not ideal but it’s a step in the right direction,” Dickson said.
Getting internship experience is more important now than ever, Director of OU Career Services Robin Huston said. They allow students to apply what they’ve learned in class to real life work situations, determine whether or not they are interested in a field and also boost self-esteem, she said.
“Employers look for students with internship experience on their resume which makes the student a more attractive candidate,” Huston said. “Many employers use internships as a way to decide if they want to offer that person a full time position once they graduate.”
However, certain career fields are more likely than others to offer paid internships, which can make it difficult for students like Dickson to find a resume bolstering internship that meets her financial needs.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers published research last December on “The Impact of Unpaid Internships on Career Development” that indicated that male agriculture and business majors were more likely to receive paid internships while journalism, political science, international affairs and nutrition majors, among others, were more likely to take unpaid internships. Overall, more students in the study took unpaid than paid internships, according to the research.
OU’s political science department understands how difficult it can be to live somewhere in the summer and work for no pay so they do their best to provide fellowships and scholarships to offset some of those costs, a political science presidential research and associate professor Deven Carlson said.
For example, the Carl Albert Center’s Ewing Fellowship is specifically for students interning in D.C. to assist them with housing and food for the summer, Carlson said. The Thousands Strong crowdfunding campaign that was launched last spring also raised money for several scholarships for political science students to help afford unpaid internships, he said.
While the political science department, among other departments, does what it can to support their students in pursuing internships, there is a certain level of economic inequality when it comes to unpaid internships.
“It’s an issue, it’s a problem that the opportunities that are available to students are, to some degree, only available to those who can take the financial costs,” Carlson said. “We do what we can to make costs not be a hurdle but I think that internships are one more issue in a long line of issues of inequitable opportunities between students who come from high income and lower income backgrounds.”
Jeremy Villanueva, a 2016 graduate of Sam Houston State University had a leg up when interviewing for his position as the Assistant Sports Information Director at the Southland Conference in Frisco, TX. Villanueva had a college internship at FC Dallas, a sports entity that sometimes works with the Southland Conference to put on events.
A mass communications major and longtime soccer fan, he applied for and got a digital content internship at the professional soccer club in the summer of 2015. He managed FC Dallas’ blog, Snapchat, Twitter and other social media platforms for no pay but course credit. That course credit allowed for him to graduate early, he said.
His family lives in Mesquite, TX, about a 45 minute drive from Frisco so he was able to live at home and commute, saving him from having to pay for housing.
The internship helped improve his writing and challenged his creativity on social media and to make the most of a post’s parameters, he said.
“It’s very neat, not that many people get those kinds of opportunities,” Villanueva said. “I felt like I was ahead of the next guy when I got back to school and it helped me get the next thing.”
Political science junior Daniel Williams interned with the Daniel Pae Campaign in Oklahoma City, OK this past summer and found his experience to be rewarding and worth course credit despite not getting monetary compensation. He’s already been able to apply what he learned in the summer to his classes this semester, he said.
“I would probably still [have] done the internship if I had not received the college credit [because] some of things in political science can only be learned through experience,” Williams said. “However I worry [that] the lack of paid internships in the poli sci field will hinder students ability to secure internships and remain financially stable.”
According to Carlson, there are upsides to unpaid internships because they introduce you to people that could help you later down the road and provide lessons that can’t be taught in the classroom. For some, the benefits of networking and work experience may be enough compensation in it of itself, but others may not be able to justify working for no pay, it’s an individual decision, he said.
Junior anthropology major Taylor Emery wouldn’t have been able to have interned at the Smithsonian Institute this past summer if he hadn’t received a research grant from the National Science Foundation through his internship that was able to cover his housing and a subway pass in D.C.. He used his own savings to pay for his flight and food, Emery said.
The archeological research project he worked on in the summer helped him see that he would like to work in museums, he said. While his time at the Smithsonian made an impact on him, he doubts that he would pursue another unpaid internship again since it was such a costly venture, he said.
“Getting funding would bridge that privilege gap for so many people,” Emery said. “I don’t know that I would ever do another unpaid internship again unless I [got] a larger stipend or if they simply [paid] me”