College to offer scholarships to unpaid interns


Evan Bell

Christie Andersen Asif, executive director of Career Initiatives at the Portfolio Center, said approximately 50 percent of interns nationwide are hired by the company they interned for.

By Campus Reporter

Columbia is encouraging its students to pursue internship opportunities with the launch of its “Columbia Internships Challenge,” which will award a $2,500 scholarship to 140 students with unpaid internships.

Christie Andersen Asif, executive director of career initiatives at the Portfolio Center, said the awards are set to be disbursed before the start of the Spring 2016 Semester along with the rest of student financial aid. Asif said she was told the funds, $175,000 in total, came from the college’s scholarship budget.

No students attended the program’s informational meeting held Nov. 11 at the Portfolio Center, 623 S. Wabash Ave., which Asif said happened because the program is new, and earlier information sessions are attended less frequently.

She said an internship task force, which included Vice President of Student Success Mark Kelly and Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden, met at the beginning of the summer. It recognized that financial considerations could be a huge barrier for students in completing internships.

“There are a lot of unpaid internships in the creative industry,” Asif said. “Students [with unpaid internships] start working 10–20 hours a week; then they have to give up a part-time job or cut back on hours.”

Asif said she hopes the opportunity will incentivize students to complete internships and reduce the financial burden on interns.

Asif said some students will only consider paid internships, but some industries offer few, if any, paid opportunities.

“Students end up ruling out potentially good internship opportunities because the need to be paid is really high,” Asif said.

Miriam Smith, executive director of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving, said the department is spreading word about the internship challenge to alumni in hopes former students will donate to the challenge. 

“At one point, all alums were students here at Columbia,” Smith said. “It’s really important for our alums to know the challenge exists. We would love for them to pay it forward and to help out our current students with internships.”

Smith said a fall appeal was mailed to alumni on Nov. 10 announcing the challenge. 

Julie Harris, internship coordinator for the Communication and Media Innovation Department, said she took part in the discussion promoting experiential learning opportunities for students.

Harris said she thinks internships, paid or unpaid, hold valuable opportunities for all students.

“The value [of internships] is in the professional experience outside the classroom,” Harris said. “Internships are central to a student’s career preparation.”

The scholarship application will be live from Nov. 16—Dec. 4. To qualify, students  must submit documentation to the college to verify they received the internship. Students can contact the Portfolio Center for more information about the scholarship.

“We would love if everybody paid his or her intern, but until that happens, there are still a lot of good unpaid opportunities,” Asif said. “If it means students are able to expand what they are looking for, or even consider internships period, I think this award can help make that possible for students.”