The Value of (Unpaid) Student Internships

Seniors '13 with their internship mentors
Seniors ’13 with their internship mentors

In the 2013 film comedy, The Internship, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson played interns at Google for laughs, but in real life unpaid internships have hit a rough patch in the public perception. With CCSC’s 2014 Senior Internship Program now entering its third week, we would like to take a moment to set the record straight about the expectations and educational value of our program.

Recently, both The Boston Globe and WBUR’s Radio Boston have run stories suggesting that unpaid internships unfairly and illegally exploit workers – from college students and recent graduates to older, unemployed workers seeking to change careers or to re-enter the labor market – and that the system disadvantages those whose families, whether parents or partners, cannot afford to subsidize an unpaid “work” experience as a resume builder.

Last June, the same month The Internship movie was released, a federal court ruled in favor of two former interns on an Academy Award-winning picture (Black Swan), who argued that the film’s producer, Fox Searchlight, had violated minimum wage and overtime laws. The decision spawned a class action suit, now pending in a federal circuit court, whose ruling, due later this spring, could force the U.S. Department of Labor to outlaw all unpaid internships at for-profit firms. The legal uncertainty and the spate of bad press have caused many large corporations to curtail, even eliminate, unpaid internships.

So where does this leave CCSC’s Senior Internship Program, now beginning its sixth year with our largest-ever senior class? The internship program is the capstone of senior year at CCSC and is central to the school’s mission to prepare students for post-secondary success.

First, there are several key differences between our senior interns, and say, the Black Swan interns, aspiring filmmakers who worked long hours for no pay on a multimillion dollar Hollywood production in the hopes of getting a toehold in the brutally competitive film industry. The majority of CCSC students will be the first in their families to attend college; they do not have parents who can pull strings to get them an internship, let alone afford for them to forgo earnings from a summer or after-school job.

  1. The CCSC Senior Internship Program is designed to further the student’s education and to provide the “real-world experience” that is part of the school’s mission statement. The school recruits and screens the internship partners, and we carefully match each student with the host organization where we think they will best develop their individual strengths and interests. For the majority of our students, the internship experience is their first introduction to a professional setting.
  2. Successfully completing an internship is a CCSC graduation requirement. Our seniors spend every Thursday during Semester 2 at their host organization in lieu of attending classes. Students are not required to make up missed class work, because the internship itself is considered and evaluated as an important part of the senior year curriculum. If they were not at their internship, they would be in a classroom taking notes, not out job-hunting.
  3. The internship is structured as a learning experience and the student’s learning is evaluated. For the first several weeks, the intern shadows his or her mentor to learn about the organization’s operations and needs. The intern spends the day observing the mentor’s daily routine, sitting in on meetings and asking questions, not making Starbucks runs or answering the phone. Then, in close collaboration with the mentor, the intern develops and takes on an educational project related to the organization’s business or mission. Finally, the intern presents what he or she learned from the projects at our annual Senior Internship Exhibit, and is evaluated by CCSC faculty, mentors and members of the community.
  4. Every CCSC intern is closely supervised and coached by a mentor, who provides regular feedback and works directly with our upper school principal to strategize on how to support and guide individual students. The experience is of the greatest benefit to the student, not the mentor for whom supervising and coaching a high school intern one day a week is an additional responsibility (though our mentors do consistently report that they learn much from our students and value the experience themselves).
  5. CCSC interns do not displace other potential employees. Remember, we are talking about high school students who would not yet qualify for employment at the host organizations.
  6. There is no expectation on anyone’s part that a senior internship will lead to a job offer. Future employment is not the goal; we expect all of our graduating seniors to enroll in college and to be full-time students next year.  The internship simply gives seniors an understanding of what a professional work environment looks and feels like.

In short, our Senior Internship Program is nothing like the “exploitative” system being criticized in the media and scrutinized in the courts, let alone the high jinks caper depicted in a Hollywood comedy. We are excited and grateful that the 34 members of CCSC’s Class of 2014 will spend every Thursday at their internships through the end of May. The seniors are excited and grateful to have this unique opportunity to explore possible career paths and to get a taste of what will be expected of them when they land their first entry-level jobs after college.

We hope many of you will join us for this year’s Senior Internship Exhibit (Wed., May 28, 5-7 PM) and see for yourself what our students have learned and accomplished this spring. Please email seniorinternship@ccscfiles.org if you are interested in attending.

Some photos of interns with their mentors at the 2013 Senior Internship Exhibit Night:

Janika Beatty '13 interned at Mass General Hospital
Janika Beatty ’13 interned at Mass General Hospital
Shadia Ahmed '13 interned at LDA Architecture and Interiors
Shadia Ahmed ’13 interned at LDA Architecture and Interiors
Woesel Dhongsar '13 & Sylvia Sanchez '13 interned at Google
Woesel Dhongsar ’13 & Sylvia Sanchez ’13 interned at Google
Vivianne Nufio '13 interned at the Museum of Science
Vivianne Nufio ’13 interned at the Museum of Science
Khorally Pierre '13 interned at the Cambridge Police Department
Khorally Pierre ’13 interned at the Cambridge Police Department
Sabine Adrasse '13 interned at the Harvard Square Business
Sabine Adrasse ’13 interned at the Harvard Square Business Association

 

 

 

 

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