The New Normal
Work Without a Wage
Published: Friday, August 31, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 7, 2012 02:09
David Lizza (COL ’15) and Basil Bastaki (SFS ’15) had yet to complete their first year at Georgetown when they began searching for summer internships in D.C.
This summer, Lizza, an 19 year old hailing from Summit, N.J., stayed on campus and worked on Capitol Hill for Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.). Bastaki, an 18 year old Kuwaiti native pursuing a degree in international politics, interns at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, where he studies microfilms. While Lizza and Bastaki each worked over 30 hours per week at their respective jobs, neither earned any money.
Facing a struggling economy and an increasingly competitive job market, more and more college students are willingly working for free. According to a 2011 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, more than half of college graduates held at least one internship, about 48 percent of which were unpaid. In 1992, only 17 percent of students had completed any kind of internship before graduating, according to a study conducted at Northwestern University.
“I feel like everyone at Georgetown, or maybe at every university, has a certain pressure to get as many accomplishments under your belt [as possible],” Collin Segura (COL ’15), who spent his summer interning alongside Bastaki at the Kluge Center, said. “Probably part of [why I took the internship] was the desire to be competitive.”
Bastaki was also inspired to find an internship, even one with no financial compensation, by the need he feels to separate himself from the pack.
“I don’t know how I’ll compete,” he said. “That’s the main motivation, that fear of competition.”
But the costs of these unpaid internships can be high. Students must often pay for housing, transportation and even new work clothes without the support of a weekly paycheck or stipend.
In some cases, unpaid internships become prohibitively expensive. Segura said he could not have interned at the Kluge Center had he not been able to live in free housing offered by the Georgetown University Student Association’s Summer Fellows Program.
The GUSA fellowship allows undergraduate students who qualify for need-based financial aid to live in Georgetown dorms, which would otherwise cost nearly $3,000, for free over the summer. But GUSA’s program is highly selective; this year only 11 students were chosen to receive grants out of about 40 applicants.
“Expanding the program is always something we would love to do,” Summer Fellows Program Director Justin Pinn (COL ’13) said. “But it should be noted that we do need money. … With the cost of housing, that’s a lot of money for 11 fellows.”
Despite the costs, Segura said he did earn something from his internship.
“The internship provides valuable experience, which in itself is a form of compensation,” he said.
Segura is not the only Georgetown student who looks at it that way. Glenda Dieuveille (COL ’14) gave up a paying job to pursue an unpaid opportunity on the Hill.
Dieuveille spent her sophomore year working for Phonathon, a branch of the university’s annual fund, calling alumni and parents to ask for donations. The job was not scintillating, but it paid $10 an hour, enough to cover meals at restaurants and other extraneous expenses.
“I didn’t enjoy it very much. The staff was great, but it wasn’t fulfilling work for me, even though I was getting paid for it,” Dieuveille said.
But at the end of August, she was offered an internship at Rep. Frederica Wilson’s (D-Fla.) D.C. office, after working for the congresswoman in Miami during the summer. Dieuveille decided to give up her paying job for an internship that offered something more attractive than an hourly wage.
“I wanted to find something that had to do with something that I want to do after school, and [my internship] was related.”
During her time working without pay at Wilson’s local offices in her hometown of Miami, Fla., this summer, Dieuveille found that working with the congresswoman fit well with her academic and career interests, spurring her decision to continue this unpaid work during the school year.
“I’m Haitian-American, so I can speak Creole. I got to practice working with [constituents], particularly on issues like immigration, visa problems. I was exposed to a whole array of problems that I didn’t know [about] before,” Dieuveille said.