A Solution for Unpaid Internships

Not all students can afford to work for free.

Sunlight streams through the tall windows of the common area of the School of Human Ecology building

The School of Human Ecology has been working with passionate donors to offset the costs of working without pay. Bryce Richter

Internships can provide unique educational experiences and invaluable career development. Taking what they glean from those opportunities, students can apply new insights to their major. The challenge is that nearly 43 percent of internships at American for-profit companies offer no compensation, creating an unfair advantage for those who can afford an unpaid one.

Since 2015, the UW School of Human Ecology has been working with passionate donors to empower all Badgers to take advantage of these transformational experiences. The school’s Unpaid Internships Program has funded students and created the Summer Internship Scholarship Program to help offset the costs of working without pay. With generous donor support, the School of Human Ecology has awarded almost $190,000 to 119 student interns. The Women’s Philanthropy Council also selected this program to receive support in their 2021 annual giving project. Now, more than 70 percent of human ecology students get paid to work, even if their internship is unpaid.

“The School of Human Ecology is committed to eliminating financial barriers that may prevent a student from participating in a high-quality internship that aligns with their major and career goals,” says Alicia Hazen ’00, assistant dean and career services director. “We understand the value internships provide in helping students to not only explore potential careers of interest and apply learning from the classroom, but also in developing professional connections and social capital that may help them launch their careers post-graduation.”

This type of discretionary funding allows the school the flexibility to help cover students’ living expenses so they don’t have to face going further into debt. And the impact is monumental. Destiny Huven ’23, a scholarship recipient last year, majored in psychology and human development and family studies. “I was an intern with the Canopy Center, which is focused on helping to strengthen families and support children, teens, and adults impacted by trauma and adversity,” Huven says. “Because of this scholarship, I was working [with] families in need of protection and services.”

The program is also helping Badgers who’ve been offered internships abroad. Natalie Damian ’23, who is currently majoring in early childhood education and human development and family studies, was able to accept an internship in Lumakanda, Kenya.

“This position will help me as a future teacher working with children from different backgrounds and cultures,” Damian says. “I will carry the skills, memories, and relationships I formed there for the rest of my life, and I am so grateful.”

Published in the Fall 2023 issue


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