Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) is working on a resolution which would allow students to get free credits for internships done over the summer. The resolution would also allow students to apply for financial aid to fund internship opportunities that might be out of their price range normally.
Jolena Zabel ’16, a junior representative for MCSG, is spearheading this initiative and is co-writing the resolution. Zabel said the idea for the resolution came from seeing her peers struggle with being able to go after great internship opportunities.
“The problem we have is that students want to do amazing things in the summer,” Zabel said. “I have a friend who wants to go to Jordan, who has the opportunity to go to Jordan this summer to do research with the Red Cross. They want her to come. I have other friends who have opportunities at the State Department, but there is no funding or the opportunity for free credits.”
Abaki Beck ’15, the Vice President of MCSG, is serving with Zabel and sophomore representative Stephanie Martinez ’17 on the Student Services and Relations Committee that is submitting this resolution.
Beck explained the resolution’s two focuses. “The two main things that we want to get out of this are getting funding for summer opportunities for students, specifically unpaid or underpaid internships or research opportunities,” Beck said. “And then also offering credits for the summer since currently you have to pay per credit during the summer.”
Currently, students can receive two credits for an internship at no extra cost over J-term. However, this is currently not an option for internships or work carried out over the summer.
“We are trying to get it so that students could do either do two credits over J-term or two credits over the summer, but you could basically do it at either time,” Beck said.
Zabel discussed why providing funding for unpaid or underpaid internships is also something she felt was an important goal to focus on for the resolution. “[Financial need] is a huge barrier for a lot of people doing these amazing things that would advance them in their careers and their studies.”
As of now, if a student wants to do an unpaid internship in another city during the summer, the cost of transportation and living expenses can quickly add up. Financial support, provided through this resolution, could help lessen this gap and allow more students the opportunity to explore job and internship markets regardless of geographic location, salary, internship nature and cost of living.
“A lot of majors [such as] international studies, political science [or] English will count internships or similar experiences, fellowships, research … for classes and for credit for the major plan. Some require it,” Zabel said, pointing to inequalities regarding receiving credits for internships depending on academic interest.
Limited access to internship funding at Macalester also impedes students’ opportunities. While students can apply for the Chuck Green or Sustainability for Global Citizenship fellowships, the Live it! Fund or the Great Lakes Grant, only a select few ultimately receive funding. Through this resolution, Zabel wants to broaden the scope of eligibility for internship funds.
“What we found when looking over all of these is that they are all for really specific majors, they’re really specific research scholarships for very specific kinds of people with very specific interest fields and there aren’t very many of them,” Zabel said.
Both Beck and Zabel highlighted how this resolution would contribute to Macalester’s Strategic Plan.
“I read through the Strategic Plan earlier this semester and I noticed there is a huge career focus in it, entrepreneurship, and vocation-driven training,” Zabel said, noting that this new area of academic emphasis meshes well with MCSG’s resolution.
“At the January Board of Trustees meeting they approved the main points of the Strategic Plan and now they are trying to figure out how to implement them,” Beck said.
Beck believes MCSG can work to implement this resolution in conjunction with the roll-out of the strategic plan.
“They’ll be forming task forces. After that we’ll see if there is anyone that will specifically be working on the more entrepreneurship type stuff and hopefully we can connect with them because I feel like this is something that they would want to support,” Beck said.
Beck, Zabel and Martinez have been talking to different people on campus and have set up future meetings to get feedback on the resolution.
“I spoke to Mike Porter, the head of the Internship Office,” Zabel said. “He says that he gets at least over 30 people a year asking about summer funding. Over 100 are doing unpaid internships. And so, who knows if there was an actual opportunity how many more would be applying for some kind of fund,” Zabel said. “Porter’s empirical knowledge lined up really well with what we knew anecdotally about the student population with regards to internships.”
Zabel has also communicated with Dean of Students Jim Hoppe and staff advisors, and has plans to meet with Provost Kathy Murray to discuss the implementation of the resolution.
Beck explained that they are still in the research and planning stage of the process.
“We are trying to get a more general picture of who has had an internship, and wanted to get credit but wasn’t able to because of financial reasons, who wanted to do an internship but wasn’t able to because of financial reasons, just to greater assess the need,” Beck said.
“This planning process will allow MCSG to present as much data as possible and have some concrete ideas in addition to the general mission statement,” Zabel said.
Martinez, who is also co-writing this resolution, is looking into how other institutions plan for this type of issue.
“We are getting in contact with internship departments at other schools. One thing we are trying to find out is what does St. Olaf do, what does Carleton do, what does Stanford do, and getting a feel for what peer institutions offer both locally and on the same academic level,” Zabel said. “What we found, through that process, is that a lot of schools do have some kind of internship fund on campus, no matter who you are or what you are studying.”
The MCSG resolution will come to a vote in a couple weeks. First, it will go through rounds of negotiations and perhaps some re-writing. Beck explained that this is the first resolution being voted on this year. As to the outcome, neither Zabel nor Beck has experienced pushback on this issue yet.
“Most people I have talked to both in MCSG and not in MCSG are really in support of it since a lot of students I know have wanted credit for an internship but didn’t want to pay thousands of dollars for it or wanted to do an internship but couldn’t because they couldn’t afford to,” said Beck.