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Students searching for summer internships during on-campus Recruiting. (File Photo)

Starting this summer, "highly-aided" sophomores and juniors will be guaranteed funding up to $4,000 for unpaid or underpaid internships.

Following advocacy by Penn First, Student Registration and Financial Services announced in October that they will introduce new programming for highly aided students, including guaranteed summer internship funding sponsored by SRFS. Highly aided students were previously prioritized if they applied to Career Services summer funding for unpaid or underpaid internships, and administrators say that grouping all highly aided students' summer funding under SRFS will free up summer funding for other students. 

The initiative was announced in an email last semester to students who are "highly-aided," which is a category of students defined by Penn as those whose family income is $65,000 or less and whose parent contribution to tuition is $4,500 or less. The application for the summer funding went live in January, SRFS Executive Director Matthew Sessa said. 

To apply for funding, students must be rising juniors or seniors and have an unpaid or underpaid summer opportunity — including internships, service programs, or research positions — that is at least six weeks long, and is a minimum of 30 hours per week.

In addition to SRFS funding highly aided students who apply to their initiative for underfunded or underpaid programs, if highly aided students accept an internship offer with a stipend in Penn’s summer programs, SRFS will fund up to $4,000 of the program’s stipend, Sessa said. 

For the past five years, Career Services has offered its own program for rising juniors, seniors, and students from some graduate schools to grant funding for students with unpaid or underpaid summer internships, which prioritized highly aided students. Last year, nearly all funds went to students receiving financial aid, many of whom were also deemed highly aided, Executive Director of Career Services Barbara Hewitt said.

Credit: Biruk Tibebe Career Services has offered its own program to grant funding for rising juniors, rising seniors, and some graduate students with unpaid or underpaid summer internships.

SRFS’s new initiative aims to increase the amount of funding available for non highly aided students, said Paul Richards, who is the director of communications for the Division of Finance. Hewitt said Career Services' program always receives more applicants than it can provide funding for: the current program has a 10 to 18 percent acceptance rate. Because highly aided students are now funded by SRFS, Career Services will be able to fund a greater number of students who are not highly aided. This means that more Penn students will be able to receive summer funding overall.

“We see from our colleagues across campus who provide funding that there are always more students applying than [there is] funding to give out,” Richards said. “Our hypothesis is that through providing this funding, other funding on campus can expand to other students of other socioeconomic backgrounds.” 

“Penn is going to be able to fund all of the highly aided students who have unpaid or low paid internships for the summer after sophomore year and the summer after junior year. That is going to be way more funding than we could ever provide from office,” Hewitt said.

While creating the initiative was “an institutional commitment” from the University and SRFS had been collaborating with administrators for years before its launch, Richards credits student advocacy from groups such as Penn First for bringing the highly aided summer funding issues to light.

For many students, the funding is crucial to compensate for unpaid and underpaid summer internships.

College senior Eden Harris, who is a highly aided student, received $3,300 from the Career Services’ program to work as a product manager at a Philadelphia-based startup called MilkCrate last year. She said she would not have been able to participate in the summer program if she had not received the additional funding.

Credit: Mona Lee SRFS has been collaborating with administrators to plan the initiative for years.

“[The program] is not meant to give you a profit, really, you're meant to get work experience,” Harris said.

College junior Amber Auslander is a highly aided student in the process of applying for funding towards their unpaid lab research program this summer. As part of the application, they said they filled out a budget sheet which included estimating how much they needed for rent, utilities, and travel expenses. 

College senior Ha Tran said he received funding from the Career Services' program during the summers after his freshman and junior years, when he worked at advertising firms in New York City and Washington D.C., respectively. Tran identifies as highly aided, and said he would not have been able to cover his living expenses without funding from Career Services for either summer.

"It's a really good move for Career Services to help FGLI students, just because internship opportunities are such an important way for students to have career development," Tran said. "It's just literally impossible to do those kinds of internships sometimes without the kind of funding that's available."

Correction: A previous version of this article included an incorrect definition of SRFS' "highly-aided" category. The DP regrets the error.