A Solution for Unpaid Internships

Internships can provide exceptional educational experiences and invaluable career development. Taking what they glean from those opportunities, students can then apply new insights to their major. The challenge is that nearly 43 percent of internships at American for-profit companies offer no compensation, creating a gap in success between those who can afford an unpaid internship and those who cannot.

Since 2015, the UW School of Human Ecology has been working with passionate donors to provide resources to empower Badgers to take advantage of these transformational prospects. The school’s Unpaid Internships Program has funded students and created the Summer Internship Scholarship Program to help offset the projected costs of working without pay. With generous donor support, the School of Human Ecology has awarded more than $418,000 to 263 student interns. Now, more than 75 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. “One reason we require our students to engage in this sort of high-impact experience is 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 x’23, a scholarship recipient, is studying psychology and human development and family studies.

“I am 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 shares. “Because of this scholarship, I am working to provide supervision services to families in need of protection and services.”

The program is also helping Badgers who’ve been offered internships abroad. Natalie Damian x’23, who is currently studying early childhood education and human development and family studies, was able 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.”