With help from the Unpaid Internship Scholarship, psychology major Jennifer Lyon has been able to intern with the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C., where she helps with social media management and government outreach. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services.
Interning: it’s a rite of passage that, for many, is intrinsic to the college experience. The benefits of pursuing a dream internship can be substantial, including exposure to the field, to the workplace, and to a network of professional contacts. Yet the practicalities of an unpaid internship, which can involve as many hours as a full-time job, stop many students from doing more than just looking at the position description.
Enter Mason’s University Career Services and the Unpaid Internship Scholarship. Established in 2017 with a grant from the University Life Parents Fund, the scholarship provides direct support to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing unpaid internships in desirable fields such as the federal government, nonprofit organizations, or medicine, to name a few.
Scholarship funding means that students eager to take up an unmissable professional experience can do so, regardless of their financial situation. And the experience they gain is crucial to improving their employment outlook after graduation. “We know that most employers are looking for 6 to 12 months of [related] experience, even for a fresh graduate with a bachelor’s,” says Kristin Leonato, associate director of strategic initiatives at University Career Services.
So far, 50 students have received a total of $70,000 in scholarships for their unpaid internships. On Giving Day in April, Alumni Association board members supported this program with a $10,000 matching gift, raising a total of $12,379.
According to Leonato and Mary Claire Kraft, manager of employer outreach at University Career Services, the funding makes a real difference, given that the average cost of an unpaid internship to a student is about $6,000. That includes everything from transportation and housing to purchasing professional attire.
Austin McManus, BA History ’17, MA History ’18, was one of the first students to benefit. The scholarship helped pay for his housing in Washington, D.C., where he interned for the History Office at the National Archives. McManus says that the internship was “an incredible experience that allowed me to apply my knowledge of public history in the classroom to a real history office environment.”
Kraft says that this type of experiential learning is exactly what employers want to see. “When you give employers a list of all the different types of experiential learning that Mason students have the opportunity to participate in, they are nearly always going to pick direct experience on site in their industry as the number one preferred item on the resume.”
—Priyanka Champaneri / reprinted from Spirit magazine, summer 2019