May 3, 2006

Students Seek Summer Funds

Print More

This is the second of two articles examining how students cope with the financial aspect of unpaid summer internships.

Financial aid recipients must earn $2,910 the summer before their senior year – not an unreasonable sum for prospective engineers or investment bankers, but a rather unlikely amount for those seeking internships in nonprofits, government, fashion design, journalism or public and international affairs.

Cornell’s Financial Aid Office ratchets up recipients’ summer savings expectations from $2,060 for freshmen to $2,600 for sophomores, $2,730 for juniors and $2,910 for seniors. According to Thomas Keane, director of financial aid for scholarships and policy analysis, as students gain more education, they should be able to secure higher-paying summer work.

That is most – but not all – students. While Cornell staff members interviewed by The Sun felt that many internships paid adequately, they acknowledged that a smaller, but nevertheless sizeable, number of students would face difficulties gaining practical summer experience while meeting financial obligations.

“I think the hardest part is if you want to do an internship in a not-for-profit arena,” Keane conceded.

“Internships even in the private sector or with large organizations are sometimes unpaid simply because of supply and demand – so many people want to do them,” said Bill Alberta, career services, who advises students interested in nonprofits and government. “If you want to break into that kind of field, you’re going to have to pay your dues through an unpaid internship.”

“In the entertainment industry and in those fields where you have to have a significant amount of experience and connections, it’s just a market factor … if you didn’t do [an unpaid internship], there’d be somebody else lining up to do it,” said Rebecca Sparrow, director of Career Services.

Cornell’s most common source of grant money for students doing unpaid internships is the Develop Your Own Summer Internship Program (DYO), for which only financial aid recipients may apply. Students accept internships related to their academic or career interests and, if accepted by DYO, Cornell reimburses the employer for part of the student’s earnings. DYO participants cannot work for any politically partisan organization, which excludes many students interested in government positions.

According to Nancy Law, assistant director for internships and summer job services, approximately 300 students were approved for DYO last summer.

Cornell Tradition fellows also have opportunities to pursue unpaid work without accruing financial burden by applying for a stipend of up to $3,000 one summer, provided the internship is career-related, lasts eight weeks and is full-time.

Yet students who do not receive financial aid but are also not wealthy can be hurt by this system.

“There are really not a lot of Cornell-funded options for them,” said Law, who has been trying to tap into Cornell’s alumni network to establish scholarships and grants for students doing unpaid internships.

The Adelphic Cornell Educational Fund (ACEF), overseen by Cornell Career Services and the Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment, functions much like DYO, except that applicants, who must be doing public service or nonprofit work, do not need to be work-study eligible. ACEF is awarded to one student per year.

Both Keane and Sparrow admitted that students just above the eligibility point for financial aid fall into a tight spot.

“It’s the students right above the cutoff for financial aid who are probably unable to gather this experience [of unpaid internships],” Sparrow said.

“It’s a huge issue,” said Hai-Ching Yang ’06, who has completed three unpaid summer internships at nonprofit organizations and does not receive financial aid. “For people like us it’s very hard if you don’t go out of your way to look for things. … that’s why so many people don’t go into nonprofits, because they don’t pay.”

Yang, who is from New York City, received $400 from Cornell’s Community on Special Educational Projects to cover transportation and food expenses for her unpaid internship at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum in Washington, D.C. the summer after her freshman year. A small stipend granted by her boss at the end of the summer defrayed more expenses. Despite sharing a house with 10 other people in a “bad neighborhood” to save money, Yang said she was glad she took the unpaid opportunity because it sparked her interest in becoming a lawyer.

Yang was a finalist for ACEF during her junior year, but did not receive the grant. Still intent on working as an investigative intern at the Legal Aid Society in New York City, Yang went to the Office of Minority Educational Affairs and worked out a special arrangement to receive funding, stressing in her proposal how her previous nonprofit internships had led her to become active in numerous campus organizations. That kind of arrangement is considered highly unusual, Yang noted.

Yang said she was “very, very lucky” to secure funding from outside sources each summer, but admitted, “these things are so hidden, they really aren’t very accessible…I went out of my way to find them.

Like Law, Yang felt that Cornell alumni could be an invaluable source of funding for students in her position.

Sparrow supported the idea as well. “I would like there to be a fund developed,” she said. “Sometimes there is funding through individual departments at a college at Cornell … or an alum has created a specialized scholarship for the pursuit of a specific subject matter. … There are some very specific things out there, and you have to dig for them,” said Diane Miller, assistant director of Arts and Sciences Career Services.

Whether or not students doing unpaid internships receive financial aid, coordinating internship deadlines with deadlines for programs like DYO or outside scholarships, securing housing in costly urban areas away from home and figuring out whether or not to seek a second paying job can be taxing, to say the least.

The problem, however, is not unique to Cornell students. In February, The Harvard Crimson ran an editorial by Paul R. Katz entitled “Stingy for the Summer,” which claimed that Harvard’s summer savings expectation impeded students from pursuing enriching summer opportunities, particularly those related to public service.

“In many cases, in fact, the greatest dividends – both to students and to our community at large — are paid not in dollars but in experiences,” Katz argued.

Another editorial published that same month in The Daily Pennsylvanian asked, “How has this unpaid internship phenomenon become so accepted and embraced?”

Last year, Yale University initiated its landmark International Summer Award Program, which offers financial aid recipients a one-time grant in the amount of their summer savings expectations to allow them to pursue summer options abroad. The program grew out of the Yale administration’s desire that every student have access to overseas opportunities, regardless of their financial obligations.

Keane said that such a program would be implausible for Cornell, which has the largest student population in the Ivy League.

“Something like that … would cost the university an additional $4.5 million if everyone took advantage of it,” Keane said.

Constanza Ontaneda ’09 is funding her summer internship in Peru through her Tradition scholarship, but noted, “It’s sad that only a minority at Cornell has this help [from Tradition]; I don’t think it should be this way.”

Ontaneda, who is majoring in textiles and apparel, will help a designer prepare her fall collection in Lima.

Tradition fellows can only apply for a grant one time; however, Ontaneda anticipates that she will have to take on unpaid internships in the future, as fashion design internships seldom pay.

Several officials besides Law favored the idea of Cornell reaching out to alumni to establish scholarship funds, although the process of setting up such funds could be complicated. Yet given the fact that the summer savings expectation will only go up, and that for those not on financial aid, on-campus opportunities continue to be limited, it could provide the most viable solution.

“I do think with our vast alumni network, certainly there could be opportunities for alumni classes or alumni organizations to possibly come together to develop a fund that could assist students seeking unpaid internships,” said Lisa Harris, director of Arts and Sciences Career services and advisor for students interested in publishing, journalism and law. “But it does take some time to develop and build those kinds of resources.”

Archived article by Maya Rao
Sun Staff Writer