Junior year summer is a pretty important time.
Whether you’re a political science student looking for that Capitol Hill internship, or an optics major looking for the best laser lab, the importance of that summer work experience cannot be overstated.
Unless you’re lucky enough to reside directly where the internship is located, however, it’s going to cost you to live, eat, breathe, and commute in a new place.
That’s where REACH funding comes in. Under the REACH funding program, the University grants either $1000 or $2500 to students who apply for help with research or an unpaid internship. The money comes from “generous gifts of University of Rochester friends and alumni who believe in the importance of experiential opportunities,” according to the website of the Gwen M. Greene Career and Internship Center.
Before I continue, know that the REACH funding program is already undergoing changes. According to Adam Cipolla, the Communications Manager for the Career and Internship Center, the center is aiming to “increase the number of students awarded with REACH funding and also increase the amount awarded per student.” Nevertheless, this article, and its suggestions, are certainly warranted.
As students at UR, we obviously want the graduates of the school to succeed and thrive, not just because we like our community, but also because it will increase the value of our degrees overall. Internships, especially in megacities like New York, Boston, and Washington D.C., are a key part of creating successful graduates.
A 2011 research study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that almost 60 percent of students with an internship got a job offer from their employer. That’s the story of the direct internship-to-job pipeline, where companies use internships to recruit and weed out students.
Furthermore, potential employers who see strong internships and work experiences are more likely to hire an applicant. Imagine a choice between someone who had the funding to work at that high-powered New York firm, or someone who didn’t, and had to work at a less prestigious local firm. All else being equal, in most industries, the former will win out over the latter.
And let’s go even further. Networking is a crucial part of so many industries, where getting the right job means knowing the right people. Having someone email the decisionmaker to pay close attention to that one application can mean the difference between an email with a salary number and an email with a “thank you for your application, but…”
Simply put, big cities and big firms offer students the chance to network with those alumni and others that can get them in the door.
If the University wants high-powered alumni, which they should for the reasons I stated above, the Administration should be working to get every student placed with the best possible work experience over the summer. To do this, the school needs to amend the REACH program in a few ways.
For one, the budget should be funded by sources other than just gifts from generous donors. This year, the Career Center was able to put all their gift money toward internships, with another department taking over undergraduate research funding. This was a fantastic first step towards improving the program, but there is still more to do.
Because the program is funded through gifts, the Career Center cannot be sure of how much funding they will actually end up having each year. Given this limitation, the school sets a deadline of April 11th for having a job secured and a request submitted. I can tell you from personal experience that I was unable to have an internship offer secured by then and I know a number of students who were in the same unfortunate situation.
An even larger problem with REACH funding is that the money is dispensed in bursts. One portion of the funding is made available in late June, with another in late August. For students who cannot pay housing costs up front without school aid, this could prohibit them from making a deposit on a place to live, or even paying first month’s rent.
The last issue is with advertising. I only found out about the REACH funding program through a friend. I brought it up to a number of fellow students who I knew could utilize it, but none previously knew the program existed. The Career Center says more than 70 students utilized the program this past summer. With over 5,500 undergraduate students, I think a break into the triple digits is warranted.
If we work on these issues, REACH funding can truly ensure that unpaid internships, and thus success, are never too far out of reach.