United Student Government (USG) agreed to sponsor an initiative by USG Senator Elizabeth Wetzler, FCRH ’17, to provide funding for unpaid interns as of Oct. 20. This sponsorship was a major step in the direction of success for the senator.
The initiative, if implemented, would allow Fordham students to receive compensation from the school to supplement their unpaid fall, spring and summer internship positions nationwide.
Wetzler compared her initiative to the Fordham undergraduate research grant program, except it would be applied to students working in public service or social sectors. Although the structure of the program is not set in stone yet, it would function similarly to internship grant programs at universities such as Syracuse, Villanova, Notre Dame and George Washington.
Wetzler is not working toward this initiative alone. With the help of USG Senator for the class of 2017 Joe Mattiello, USG President Daniel Stroie and multiple Fordham administrators, the plan for this initiative only needs financial assistance and perhaps administrative permission to be complete.
Mattiello said that the requirement of authorization from executive figures such as Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Christopher Rodgers or Assistant Dean for Student Involvement Cody Arcuri would depend on how the senators decide to implement the program.
One major issue that could stand in the way of this initiative is not the involvement of administrative figures, but rather funding. USG President Daniel Stroie, GSB ’17, said he is a big fan of this initiative, but said “the funding is the biggest issue.”
Stroie said this initiative could affect a sizable amount of Fordham students. Stroie said he hopes the initiative receives consistent funding in order to allow it to continue after Wetzler graduates.
“If it is something big, we want it to stick long-term,” said Stroie. Stroie said a long-term focus would enable Fordham students to “do more good.”
Wetzler is not yet able to provide a concrete timeline for when students can expect the initiative to be implemented, but she said the ideal plan is to get unpaid internships funded by fall of next year.
“In order to make it happen, we would have to have the initiative approved and have substantial funding secured this year,” said Wetzler. Despite the challenge, she is confident she will work hard enough to reach her goal.
This initiative was heavily researched and thought out by the senators on the project. Mattiello provided feedback on the program as a whole in addition to the proposal, comparing Fordham’s initiative to other schools.
What makes Fordham’s program unique is its focus on the Jesuit values of being men and women for others, evidenced by the volume of students pursuing internships in the social service industries.
“With 90 percent of Fordham undergraduates participating in at least one internship during their time at Fordham and forty-five percent of these internships being unpaid, over 40 percent of undergraduates could be affected by the financial hardship of unpaid internships,” said Mattielo.
Wetzler, an International Relations major, was inspired to create this initiative following her work experience over summer 2015. During that summer, she volunteered at a courthouse while working for a fast-food chain in Manhattan.
“It was difficult to juggle both commitments, and my ability to earn money during the summer was somewhat impeded as a result,” said Wetzler.
After dealing with her own financial hardship, she realized many other students were probably dealing with similar issues. Wetzler said that students should be “encouraged and empowered” to accept jobs within the public and social service fields instead of feeling limited due to financial constraints.
As far as the next steps for this USG initiative, they will solidify their program’s structure and work with the university administration, according to Wetzler.
Once the program is solidified, Wetzler will propose the initiative’s resolution to USG, which will vote to approve or deny the initiative. If the program gets approved, the senator will most likely be working with the Student Life Council and potentially the Office of Development and University Relations to work on financing the program. Unpaid working students may be a thing of the past at Fordham, soon being replaced by a future of encouraged and empowered interns.