Funding Program for Unpaid Internships in Arts and Humanities Has Unique Twist

May 17, 2021 | By Kevin Gray

Three people in a conversation

TAGS: best practices, compensation, faculty, Internships, nace insights, operations, recruiting,

Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

While students in the arts and humanities can face high hurdles when seeking work experience, a program developed by the New College of Florida helps these students secure payment for unpaid internships. However, the Sarasota-Manatee Arts & Humanities (SMAH) Internship Program has a twist in its approach that distinguishes it from other programs that fund students’ unpaid internships.

Dwayne Peterson, executive director of career education in the New College’s Center for Career Engagement & Opportunity (CEO), points to the inequity of access to internship participation.

“We know that unpaid internships disproportionately affect female students, students of color, and first-generation students,” explains Peterson, who will present with Madeline Heath Tympanick about the SMAH Internship Program during the NACE 2021 Conference & Expo.

“This disproportionality is perpetuated in the arts and humanities.”

Adds Tympanick, assistant director and career coach in the CEO: “One of the barriers these students face is the legal status of unpaid internships for nonprofits, which are not legally obligated to pay their interns. Oftentimes, they are under-resourced, so that is part of it. However, not all students can afford to take an unpaid internship, depending on their background or socio-economic status. That can be a barrier for students in terms of pursuing unpaid internships.”

Last academic year, a New College faculty member who was interested in increasing internship opportunities in arts administration approached the CEO. The CEO expanded the concept beyond arts administration and explored leveraging a new funding source: an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant, which is related to community outreach and engagement and the arts and humanities.

“We thought we could use this new funding source to build upon this program and give funding to nonprofit organizations so they can pay for their interns’ work,” Tympanick says.

Peterson points out that the New College is uniquely positioned for this program because of Sarasota’s rich arts industry, which includes a full opera, a full ballet, and multiple theater companies and symphonies.

Developed and launched during Spring 2020 to fund the first cycle of internships during Fall 2021, the SMAH Internship Program is community driven; local employers submit internship project proposals to the CEO, which are then reviewed and selected by a committee made up of CEO staff and faculty members from the Division of Humanities, which includes the arts.

“What’s interesting about this model compared to other models is that to deal with the inequity of internships, most schools give money directly to students so they can take unpaid internships,” Peterson explains.

“Many times, the faculty and students work together to decide what students need academically and skill-wise, and then students go out to find internship opportunities. That can impose the intellectual capital of the institution out on the community.”

Through the SMAH Internship Program, the CEO asks employers in the arts and humanities to identify and communicate their needs and—together with CEO staff and New College faculty—align student learning with those needs.

“We send out a request for proposal for internship projects, we educate organizations about what those projects should entail and what the rules are in terms of aligning with the grant, then they submit projects to us,” Peterson says.

“This model brings the community into partnership with faculty and career educators to shape experiences for students. We all have a stake in what that learning looks like. Employers in the community identify their needs, while faculty and career staff identify our students’ interests, skill sets, and gaps. We work together to address these needs, gaps, and goals.

“The other thing that makes this program unique is we aligned it with an industry that is ripe for student learning. This is a major learning environment for students, so our students are contributing economically to the community, but in a way that supports the community’s needs and their interests.”

Tympanick says the program is very community driven and has led to deeper relationships between the college and the community.  

“The community and internship sites we have partnered with have really started to see us as industry experts in terms of career development and internship consultation,” she says.

“We’ve also noticed that the community is learning more about our student talent as they see the impact of their work in the SMAH-funded internships. We have an increased number of organizations coming to us because they want to recruit our students, which could potentially keep more of our student talent in the local community after graduation. I think this model can be replicated in many different contexts based on the needs of the students and community.”

Dwayne Peterson and Madeline Heath Tympanick will present “Arts and Humanities Internships: Increasing Equity and Access in Changing Times” during the NACE 2021 Conference & Expo.

NACE AI Bootcamp Faculty Attitudes and Behaviors: The Integration of Career Readiness Into the Curriculum NACE's NEW Coaching Certification Program