September 8, 2014

Cornellians Sign Petition for Internship Stipends

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A group of Cornellians have been circulating an online petition that asks the College of Arts and Sciences to provide stipends for students who have unpaid summer internships.

The University has a “crucial responsibility” to help and support students with internships, according to Danyoung Kim ’16, the author of the petition. She added in the petition that she believes internships — many of which are unpaid — are “vital” to students’ career development.

“Currently, [the arts college] offers seven scholarships and fellowships specifically for summer activities,” the petition states. “These grants, however, have a narrow set of requirements that disqualifies many needy students.”

Kim said she was inspired to write the petition after she had difficulty finding funding for her unpaid internship this past summer.

“I was offered an internship at a think tank, but I couldn’t accept the position unless I received outside funding,” she said. “The first place I looked to for help was Cornell. While there were a few scholarships, I was ineligible for them because they discriminated by the nature of internships.”

Kim said she eventually found funding outside the University from her private high school.

“I thought first, it is unfair that I have an advantage over students who did not attend high schools that can offer stipends, and second, if my high school could have such a program, it’s incongruous that a university like Cornell would not have the resources to do something similar,” she said.

The petition, which was created on Thursday, currently has approximately 100 signatures, according to Kim. She added that the petition was addressed to the arts college for logistical reasons.

“Cornell has different policies for each of its colleges, so I thought it would be more practical to focus on just the College of Arts and Sciences,” Kim said. “Hopefully, this initiative will spread to all of the colleges.”

The amount of funding the arts college would provide, if any, would most likely be “very small” due to budget problems, according to Kim.

“I understand we don’t have an abundant amount of money to spare in the budget. That’s why the stipends would not cover the entirety of students’ living costs, but would be there just for partial support,” she said.

It’s a positive thing when students on campus voice their concerns instead of becoming complacent. — Emma Johnston ’16

One possible option for funding the stipends is the Students Helping Students fund, which gives out grants to low-income students who have unforeseen or emergency circumstances regarding family, property or health, according to Matt Henderson ’16, Student Assembly vice president for internal operations.

“This endowment has been underutilized over the last several years,” Henderson said. “The Financial Aid Review Committee has looked for additional uses for some of the funds in the past, but we were unable to come up with an unmet need that would be a good use of the money.

Henderson added that he believes the petition appears to be a “good match” for the University’s surplus funds and needs of low-income students.

“The main problem … is that several students from low-income families are forced to forego unpaid internships because of the inability to afford the travel and housing costs,” he said. “This problem isn’t unique to [the arts college].”

Kim adds she plans on emailing the petition soon to Gretchen Ritter ’82, dean of the arts college, and setting up a meeting.

“I am already in conversation with the College of Arts and Sciences representatives in the S.A. The next step might be to reach out to alumni who would be interested in supporting this initiative, but that will depend on what direction the Dean has in mind,” Kim said.

Emma Johnston ’16, arts and sciences representative for the S.A., said she “[doesn’t] think it’s a far-fetched goal” to set up a stipend system.

“I think it’s easy for a lot of us to agree that the stipends are needed but to make them a reality will require finding funding within our budget, fundraising or ideally both,” she said. “It’s a positive thing when students on campus voice their concerns instead of becoming complacent.”

Johnston said she feels that internships are important because getting a job in the future “is not just about getting your degree.”

“What if you can’t work an unpaid internship because you had to work a paid job, and five years down the line this is the only thing that separates you from another applicant?” she said.