On Campus

As unpaid internships remain under fire, Syracuse University schools and colleges guide students differently

Kiran Ramsey | Digital Design Editor

Syracuse University's schools and colleges each hold their own policies and philosophies regarding internships, both paid and not, for students.

Polishing up cover letters, frantically finding recommendations and mending portfolios: It’s internship season, and students across the country are sending out applications for work this summer.

Syracuse University’s schools and colleges each hold their own policies and philosophies regarding internships, both paid and not.

Some students will end up making sales calls or spend time learning the intricate nature of chemical engineering over the course of June and July, for pay.

Others will work tech jobs or find themselves on a reporting beat, unpaid, while receiving college credit, something that has been a point of controversy in recent years.

“You have the Fair Labor Standards Act … where you’re supposed to be earning money if you’re doing work for an organization or an employer,” said Kathleen Benjamin, the internship coordinator in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies.

Benjamin noted that some businesses use college credit as a way to supplement pay for student interns.

Reuters this summer reported that Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox Entertainment Group of 21st Century Fox settled class-action litigation filed by “former interns who said they should have been paid for their work.”

In an international scope, The Economist reported earlier this month that unpaid internships are continuing to come under fire in Britain.

Ultimately, different programs and colleges at SU have their own policies regarding internships, have their own perspectives on unpaid internships and see separate trends regarding students taking unpaid internships.

For example, undergraduates in the iSchool are not required to have an internship to graduate. If undergraduates want to build up their resume with an internship though, they can receive college credit if they are halfway through their chosen degree, Benjamin said.

Most graduate students in the iSchool’s master’s programs, on the other hand, are required to have an internship before receiving their degree.

“The library (grad) students … the majority of them are looking for an academic library or public library (internship),” Benjamin explained. “The information management students, they’re the big corporate people. They want the EY’s … the PwC’s. Those kinds of internships are what they’re all looking for. Those are the paid ones.”

She said 140 iSchool graduate students in the information management program had internships during the summer of 2016. Out of that 140, there was about 20 students who had unpaid internships.

“That’s kind of unusual, so that’s a little bit higher than what we would normally see for (unpaid) internships,” Benjamin said. “The students are getting more of them.”

Kelli Young, the director of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs’ Center for Career Development, said in an email that very few Maxwell graduate students are doing internship work.

The Martin J. Whitman School of Management, meanwhile, requires all students — whether it be undergraduates or graduates — to have an internship.

“We see a mix of paid and unpaid internships for Whitman students,” said Kristen DeWolf, the associate director of corporate development at Whitman’s Career Center Services, in an email. “Typically younger students (rising sophomores/juniors) are offered unpaid internships … Rising senior and graduate internships are most often paid.”

DeWolf said about 75 percent of all Whitman students receive paid internships. She also said depending on the industry, students in Whitman generally have a more solid and rewarding experience with a paid internship.

“A lot of colleagues that are in similar universities across the country, some of them have very strong opinions that no internship should be unpaid,” said Mike Cahill, director of the SU Career Services. “You know, my feeling is you need to get some experience … it’s great if you can find the opportunity to get paid to do those things. But if not, it’s really the quality of the experience: It’s how much you really are able to learn and grow.”

Cahill said there is no reliable data to indicate the proportion of SU students who get unpaid internships in comparison to those who get paid internships.

While individual colleges may keep track of the number of their students who get internships that give college credit, there is no total, official campus-wide cumulative number that indicates how many SU students have an unpaid internship with college credit, he said.

Even if there was, that number would leave out the students who find internships themselves without any help from individual career development centers or the SU Career Services’ apparatus, Cahill said.

Tracey Bowen, an assistant professor, teaching stream and the internship coordinator at the University of Toronto Mississauga, said there is a fine line between valuable experiences and exploitation with unpaid internships.

“I think if we keep the notion that an internship is about learning, it’s about learning at the workplace … I think then we’ll be OK,” Bowen said. “But sometimes we do: ‘We don’t have the money so let’s get an unpaid intern.’ That’s wrong.”

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