SEC to Fund More International Internships

Sam Grainger-Shuba

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When the Associated Students of Whitman College lifted the ban on college-supported international travel in 2013, they affected internships funded by the Student Engagement Center for this coming summer. Students will be able to apply for jobs abroad and receive college funding to spend their summers there.

Four years ago, the administration put a college-wide ban on funding for unsupervised student activity abroad. Last year ASWC advocated for the college to fund international travel for students under the leadership  of senior Kayvon Behroozian, who was ASWC president at the time. This resulted in a policy change, by which the administration hoped to expand opportunities available to students looking for internships and to make travel easier for student clubs and organizations.

“The college’s policy unnecessarily precluded students from receiving funding to perform academic research for things like senior theses or to have internship grants for professional opportunities outside of the United States,” Behroozian said in an email. “Noting the college’s interest in producing students that are able to function and succeed in an increasingly global world, we saw this ban as counter to that goal.”

In response to the lift on the ban, the SEC offered the opportunity for students to apply for funding to do internships in Canada for the summer of 2013, and they have expanded the range of international opportunities for this upcoming summer.

“We’re really excited [and] really interested to see what happens,” Assistant Dean of Student Engagement Noah Leavitt said. “It is consistent with the college’s goal to prepare students for not just a rapidly changing, technological world, but also a multicultural world.”

For 2014, the SEC is expecting to have enough funds for five international internships, a number they hope to increase in later years. These five internships will be geared toward sophomores and juniors who already have existing connections with a company or organization abroad.

“The college is obviously very focused on students who have internship experiences outside the United States having safe and secure summers so that they can get a lot out of the organization that they’re a part of,” Leavitt said. “We really want to try out a model for it this year and see how it goes. We want it to go well so the process is structured to minimize risk [and] create as expansive, exciting, professional opportunities as we can, but it’s not ‘anything goes.'”

For the purposes of this pilot program, students will be required to complete a similar process to that of the domestic internship program, which involves applying for the stipend, getting supervisor approval and attending a mandatory workshop. The international internship program also requires attending an interview, undergoing a safety check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department, attending two mandatory workshops and sharing the internship experience with the community in a blog post or presentation of some kind.

Leavitt also said the organization the student wishes to work for needs to be significant, sustainable and financially secure, primarily for safety reasons. The SEC is especially interested in students trying to work for organizations that are connected to Whitman, whether it be via trustees, alumni or faculty members.

“We always want students to be developing their involvement with the Whitman network, and this seemed like a good way to do it,” Leavitt said.

Sophomore Charlotte Mugisha is pursuing an internship in her home country, Rwanda. After hearing about the change in policy last summer, she decided to pursue an international internship with the hope that the college would be able to help her pursue her dream of having a positive impact on her country while being able to see her family, which was not an option last summer.

“I feel extremely blessed to be in a school like Whitman that has all these great opportunities that help all students regardless of which backgrounds we’re all from. I haven’t got the grant from Whitman that will facilitate me to go back home yet, but I’m very optimistic and praying that all the hard work I’ve put into this will finally pay off.”

Along with the $3,000 stipend, there is an optional application for additional support to cover costs related to the internship, such as travel and housing. The amount provided will be based on need.

“This is a huge step forward for the college because it is difficult enough for students pursuing professional development opportunities in the [United] States to support themselves, let alone to do the same thing abroad,” Behroozian said. “With access to funding for this purpose, internships abroad that are key to a student’s professional development will be accessible to more and more students who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to pursue them before.”

The SEC will be holding an information session for the internship program on Friday, Feb. 21, at noon in Reid Campus Center 240. The application for the grants was finalized Feb. 18, and its first deadline is March 3 at 5 p.m.

“It is very satisfying and rewarding to see the work that ASWC undertook last year with regards to this issue,” Behroozian said. “This shift in college policy was one of my biggest goals as president last year, and while not many students are aware of this success, it is still a rewarding feeling. You know your student government is doing a good job when it is quietly humming in the background, making things easier for you as a student.”

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