University of Rochester

Career Center Stipends Ease the Sting of Unpaid Internships

September 1, 2006

Volunteer or low-paid internships weren't a barrier for more than 80 University of Rochester undergraduates who wanted challenging summer experiences but felt the pressure to make money for college expenses this fall.

The College Career Center dipped into a generous pool of funds provided by alumni and other donors—this year's Reach Internship Funds totaled $90,000—for students picked to work at local, national, and international sites in offices, African villages, medical centers, and Washington think-tanks.

"Our favorite saying with students is 'Reach makes internships possible, not profitable,' " said Emily Carpenter, associate director of the Career Center. "The stipends often require students to get part-time jobs to make ends meet or increase their earnings in other ways to contribute to the cost of college." The highest amount for support per student was $1,750.

Junior Meghan Gilligan followed that pattern. She supplemented her $1,500 Reach stipend with a part-time job in accounting at Wegmans, and with funds from the Department of English's Tanenbaum Award for majors seeking "real world" internships. Her assignment at United Way of Greater Rochester as an unpaid public policy intern gave her practice in research and writing on urban issues. "The work was very immediate," she said. "I could read about these issues in the newspaper the next day."

Gilligan, a resident of Henrietta, plans to attend law school and perhaps run for office. "Ideally, politics is all about changing things for the better," she said. "It's a field that affects people's lives in positive ways."

In the last decade or so, increasing numbers of U.S. college students have sought summer internships as a source of professional contacts and leads for full-time work after graduation.

"We were one of the leaders in recognizing the value of supporting students rather than see them walk away from opportunities with nonprofit organizations or government agencies," said Burton Nadler, assistant dean and Career Center director. "The demand from our students shows the desire to apply their studies and interests to work experiences in America and abroad."

Community agencies, not-for-profit programs, medical, legal, and government offices are usually on students' radar. This year, Allison Rusgo, a junior from Charlotte, N.C., and an active member of the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) on River Campus, volunteered with Magen David Adom, the ambulance corps of Israel. She was one of three Reach interns outside the United States.

"Israel and medicine are two of my passions, and my ultimate career goal is to become a doctor," she explained in her Reach application. On her return, she sounded more committed than ever: "Becoming a part of Israeli society and making a difference in the lives of my patients and their families was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Reach Funds definitely made my trip possible."