FunPaid Internships

When I was in eighth grade, my middle school made all the students in my class spend two weeks working at a business of their choice.  One of my classmates chose to work at a consignment store, another for the Portland Trail Blazers and one of my friends worked at my mom's OB/GYN clinic.  I chose to work at the café next door to the studio where I took dance classes daily.  The work was all unpaid (though I did get to keep some of the tips), but in the end the owners hired me as their first 14-year-old barista.  I was the first of my friends to have a real job, and I continued working weekends at the café until I graduated from high school four years later.This is a straightforward example of the value of unpaid internships.  I got my foot in the door and made a return on my investment of time and free labor.  Unfortunately, not all internships run this course.  I spent an entire semester working between classes for an environmental political advocacy organization where my main duty was to fetch pumpkin soup from the Au Bon Pain down the block.  I spent hundreds of dollars on train and subway tickets to add a few lines to my resume and become a Tetris master.  Despite their grumbling, my parents were supportive as they upped my allowance to cover the costs of my unpaid internship.  Without their financial backing, it would have been impossible for me to add this gem to my work history. The problem with unpaid internships is that their existence and value reinforce inequality and shut out those who cannot afford to spend months working for free.  They are not inherently exploitative—businesses and organizations invest time and resources to train interns who may or may not come to work there in the end—so I don't think federal regulation is necessarily the best answer.  If all internships were paid, perhaps fewer interns would run into the pumpkin soup problem: being underworked or getting stuck with mundane and unnecessary tasks.  Then again, organizations would be unable to offer as many internships and fewer people would gain the potentially beneficial experience. The fact of the matter is that money and power go hand in hand.  Unpaid internships don't place an undue burden on people who have access to money, whether from their parents, their school or elsewhere.  This financial burden should be manageable, except Scripps offers only a handful of grants.  The competition for these grants is fierce, and the deadline—March 30—is long before most people even know whether they have an internship.  The applications for several of the internships I applied for weren't even due until April 1.  These grants are fantastic, and CP&R has worked very hard to coordinate them.  Now we just need many, many more. Just as students invest their time and energy in unpaid internships, Scripps should invest more in enabling students to support themselves while they build up their resumes.  If Scripps invested in me and my future, I know I would be far more likely to give back to the school later in life.