Some firms exclude College students from internships

by Rebekah Rombom | 10/31/05 6:00am

After completing an internship in Washington, D.C., this summer, David Rothenberg '08 thought he would work in a different field during the remaining weeks before classes started. Rothenberg approached the brokerage firm Smith Barney about an internship but found that the firm's unpaid internships were only available for students who were earning credit from their schools for the experience.

On Rothenberg's behalf, Dartmouth's Career Services Office sent Smith Barney the letter it dispatches when Dartmouth students encounter this problem, but the company still wouldn't budge.

"I figured, so many Dartmouth students throughout the years have had internships with these big financial institutions," Rothenberg said. "But once Smith Barney got the stuff, they said I couldn't do the internship."

Career Services is aware of this issue and has even compiled a list of 42 companies that will not hire Dartmouth students because they cannot receive credit. Smith Barney is on the list, which also includes television networks MTV and NBC.

A human resources representative from Fox News, also on the list, seemed unsure as to why the company wouldn't hire unpaid interns who cannot receive credit beyond that it's "company policy."

"Every company is probably like that," she said.

Skip Sturman, director of career services, said the problem mostly occurs in communications-oriented fields such as television and publishing.

In the past few years, Sturman has seen an increase in the number of students turned away from unpaid internships because they cannot receive credit. In October 2004, Sturman asked Karen Whittet, assistant director of career services, to compile a report on the issue and what peer institutions are doing about the situation.

While many colleges and universities offer actual credit for unpaid internships, others have instituted what career services has termed "creative solutions" for addressing the problem.

Mount Holyoke College offers transcript notation, not credit, and Northwestern University allows students to enroll in a no-credit no-tuition class associated with internships. Northwestern then sends a letter to the employer stating that the student is enrolled in the class.

Sturman noted that the letter Dartmouth sends works in some cases, though the 42 employers on Career Services' list usually do not accept it. Other options include enrolling in a course at a community or local college.

Andrea Stava '06 took that route when she interned with Chanel. She and Lauren Serrano '06 had to enroll in Phoenix Community College, which gave them credit for the internship. The women paid about $250 each to enroll in Phoenix.

"The credits didn't transfer. It was a hassle because we had to wait for Career Services to send the letters that said they didn't give any credit. Then we had to wait to hear back from Chanel. Then when we heard that wouldn't work, we had to go searching for community college internship programs," Stava said. "All that took about a month off our internship."

The Career Services Office has shared the information in its report with the Dean of the Faculty, Dean of the College and the film studies department, the offices most likely to precipitate a change in the policy. Still, any change would likely have to go through several committees, Sturman said.

"Where it goes from here," Sturman said, "it just has to be determined on the academic side of the leger."

Students whose internships fit into an academic department can apply to do an independent study project, which usually requires sponsorship from a professor and a paper relating to the experience.

For now, though, most students rely on the letter, which is signed by the dean of the faculty and states, "Dartmouth College fully supports the value of internships."

Sturman, whose name appears on a note sent in conjunction with the dean's letter, encourages students to investigate options like enrolling in a community college or applying for an independent study program.

"We do wish that these opportunities were open to all students, but Dartmouth deserves credit for being open and honest," Sturman said. "The letter is still working. It just doesn't work all the time, and we wish it would."

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