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Career Services is partnering with the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly to offer a summer unpaid internship funding program for graduate students.

Credit: Biruk Tibebe

Penn Career Services and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly at Penn have created an unpaid summer internship funding program for graduate students.

The summer internship program awards fall into four funding categories — $4,500, $3,000, $2,225, and $1,500 — depending on hours worked and student needs. Funds will cover travel, living, and miscellaneous expenses related to the summer internship. Applicants must be graduate students, have a summer internship opportunity between four to ten weeks in length, and must write a brief, 500-word summary of their summer experience, which Penn Career Services will post on their blog. 

According to Penn Law graduate and former GAPSA Vice President of Programming Keshara Senanayake, the program arose from conversations with GAPSA leadership about a lack of graduate student internship funding, as opposed to undergraduate students’ robust funding. Senanayake called the program a partnership and team effort between students and administration.

To establish the unpaid internship funding program, GAPSA gave a $700,000 donation to Career Services, with $200,000 disbursed for the summer 2023 cohort and the remaining $500,000 for summer 2024 awardees and beyond.

“Financial barriers shouldn’t prevent someone from pursuing internships, and fundamentally unpaid internships benefit a privileged few,” Senanayake said, adding that the program's goal is to try to bridge that socioeconomic gap.

Penn Law and Wharton MBA third-year and GAPSA President Michael Krone also stated that the unpaid internship funding program “can help students be able to take on those jobs without the financial burden.”

Director of Graduate Career Initiatives at Career Services, Joseph Barber, said that the program would help graduate students participate in internships that align with their career goals and professional development. 

“[The program will] make the ability to gain internships equitable across people with different financial backgrounds or different fields,” Barber said. 

The summer 2023 pilot program offered 67 master's students and four doctoral students funding, according to Barber. Eight graduate schools were represented by those who accepted the funding, with the majority of awardees coming from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Graduate School of Education, the Weitzman School of Design, and the School of Social Policy & Practice.

Graduate students who received funding were also required to submit blog posts for the Career Services site, which Barber explained was a way to encourage networking among students and companies. 

“[The program helps] integrate Penn students into organizations that hopefully see the value of the Penn experience, and want to engage with [Penn students] more, and want to come back to recruit more,” he said.

This semester, Career Services, GAPSA, and the Undergraduate Assembly also collaborated to sponsor a photo booth in the Career Services office that allows Penn undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, alumni, faculty, and staff to get free professional headshots.

Application details for the summer 2024 program will be shared on Career Services’ website in January 2024.