Macalester grant makes unpaid summer internships possible


Bo-Sung Kim ’17 poses with co-workers at her internship. Photo courtesy of Kim.

Bo-Sung Kim ’17 poses with co-workers at her internship. Photo courtesy of Kim.
Bo-Sung Kim ’17 poses with co-workers at her internship. Photo courtesy of Kim.

For any Macalester student, summer internships are a great way to gain experience in the working world and experiment in a field related to one’s major. But often, these internships come at a price: no paycheck. Amidst a national discussion on the pros and cons of unpaid internships, Macalester College has decided to introduce the Macalester Summer Internship Grant (MSIG) to support students hoping to pursue unpaid opportunities. This grant, created in the spring of 2015 as a pilot program, provides 10 to 12 students the opportunity to pursue unpaid internships around the globe through a $4,500 grant to support the cost of living (housing, travel, food, etc.). Although this stipend does not aim to give students an hourly wage, it does allow students to pursue summer internship opportunities without as much of a financial burden.

According to Bo-Sung Kim ’17, a grant recipient last summer, the MSIG was “a game changer.” After taking Macalester courses such as “Biological Paradigms” and “Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Public Health,” Kim wanted to apply what she had learned to the local Minnesota community. The MSIG allowed her to craft her own position with the Minnesota Department of Health’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Program: “With Macalester College providing me with summer stipends … the Tracking Program had more freedom in designing the nature of my internship.” Consequently, Kim was able to use her skills with GIS to visualize health data into maps and analyze the results for trends in specific geographic areas.

Similarly, Zoe Bowman ’16 was able to use her MSIG last summer to design an internship at the Jordanian Red Crescent in Amman, Jordan to further her language skills and interests in human rights. After studying abroad in Amman, Bowman connected with her study abroad advisor about further opportunities with humanitarian organizations in the city. She was able to secure a position translating Arabic and conducting site visits to places that benefit Syrian refugees. Along with this work in the field, Bowman also assembled a report on the Red Crescent’s response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis. The MSIG made it financially possible for her to travel to Jordan and find housing in Amman for the summer.

Photo courtesy of Bo-Sung Kim ’17.
Photo courtesy of Bo-Sung Kim ’17.

Along with internships in the Twin Cities and abroad, the MSIG also works to make it possible for Macalester students, such as Emily Muscat ’16 and Jacob Phillips ’16, to do internships in Washington D.C. An international studies major, Muscat interned at the US Department of State in The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, African Affairs office. Through her internship, she was able to explore possible professions within her major, as well as tie what she had learned abroad in Senegal to a potential career.

Phillips, an international studies and Hispanic studies double major, interned at the Embassy of Jamaica. His internship allowed him to experience various aspects of diplomacy, such as attending the Organization of American States (OAS), working with Jamaicans to secure their passports and experiencing a life as a diplomat. Both Muscat and Phillips credit the MSIG with allowing them to live and work in Washington D.C. for the summer.

Although the MSIG does support students to do an unpaid internship anywhere in the world, Mike Porter, the director of the Internship Program, emphasizes that the grant is not meant to pay for the cost of living, as well as supplement an hourly wage. He adds that, in some cities, the grant may not even be enough to cover the basic costs of living.
Phillips agrees,

“Be prepared to budget. There is no guarantee, especially in a city like D.C., that the grant will be sufficient to cover all of your expenses.”
In addition, Porter recognizes that the MSIG is not sufficient enough to help all of the students who need summer funding for unpaid internships. He stresses, though, that he and the college are working to expand the program by integrating funding for summer internships into Macalester’s strategic plan: “There are so many wonderful opportunities that students cannot take because they are unpaid. We need to do our part to bridge that gap.”

This year, the Internship Program hopes to fund between 10 and 12 internships (with the hope of funding more in the future). Currently, each grant is $4,500 to be consistent with other Macalester-funded programs, such as summer research and the Chuck Green Fellowship. But the Internship Program is also open to awarding half grants to students living at home. According to Porter, “Almost all applicants would benefit from the grant. It’s a difficult decision, but because we have so few grants to give, we are focusing it more on students with demonstrated financial need. We’re trying to be as fair and equitable as we can.”

Overall, Porter stresses that students with an internship opportunity in mind (especially one that connects to their academics at Macalester) should apply for the MSIG because the grant could help them complete an internship that would have been financially impossible otherwise. Muscat agrees, “This grant is important because unpaid internships … are inherently classist, giving those with wealthy parents the opportunity to get unpaid ‘experience’ while those whose parents can’t afford it are left without the same options. This grant can help close that gap.” Phillips again emphasizes the grant’s importance: “I’m grateful to Macalester for giving me the grant to intern in D.C. It really made a difference in my life personally, professionally, and academically.”

Applications for the MSIG are due on Tuesday, March 22 at noon. More information about the application process can be found at: