Internships are essential

Internships are essential

By Hugh Cherry, Director of Education

COVID-19 has not been kind to internships (and the potential interns looking for them). According to the online job recruiter Glassdoor, the number of internships advertised on its site declined 49 percent from May 2019 to May 2020. Whether it is due to logistical issues or the economic fallout of the pandemic, many companies and nonprofits have been forced to suspend internship opportunities — in some cases, indefinitely — even though interns often play a vital role in organizations.

Even though coronavirus required the Charles Koch Institute to rethink how to deliver the Koch Internship Program (KIP), we considered the program essential. Our partner organizations agreed. Koch interns are valued team members; they do meaningful work. And for participants, the experience is anything but expendable.

We asked three Fall 2020 interns to describe their KIP experiences during COVID-19. Learn more about KIP.

Demane Butler (Trinity Washington University ’19), StreetWise Partners

How did you hear about the Koch Internship Program, and why were you interested?

I was a mentee in a workforce development program known as StreetWise Partners. My boss informed me about KIP. She told me it would be an opportunity for a paid internship that would help me expand personally and professionally. When I learned about the self-driven project, I was excited, especially during COVID-19. I knew the program would be a wonderful opportunity to network and to think critically about topics like immigration reform and technology. The KIP program really challenges you over its 10 weeks!

What are your primary responsibilities as an intern? 

StreetWise Partners is a one-year workforce development program that guides driven job seekers into extraordinary leaders in their careers. Each job seeker is paired with one or two mentors who support them through the 13-week curriculum and for 9 months after.

I am the DC Program Intern. I host virtual workshops, creating customized breakout rooms to sort more than 100 participants ensuring there is a high-quality experience and support for attendees. I’ve also researched and contacted professional associations, local nonprofits, and organizations to recruit mentors and mentees. Lastly, I design weekly newsletters to inform alumni and mentees about jobs, events, and opportunities.

How does the Koch Internship Program differ from your past experiences? 

I’ve had internships since my sophomore year in high school, but KIP helps its participants discover how committed we are to getting things done and to becoming flourishing citizens.

What has been the most helpful part of the program?

There are a lot of exercises that helped me improve my critical thinking skills. I am excited to share those experiences with my loved ones and friends to spearhead those difficult conversations. We also did a career road-mapping project where we thought about where we want to be in a couple of years. We also had to think about our strengths and weaknesses and envision how we see ourselves in our career short-term.

Now that your KIP experience is coming to a close, what is your next step? 

I’ll continue to intern with StreetWise Partners until December. I also plan on continuing to work on my self-driven KIP capstone project, which is a blog.

My longer-term goal is to use my degree to begin my career in human resources. I enjoy volunteering my time and giving back to my community. Someday I would like to invest in organizations, like StreetWise Partners, where I was a mentee. Lastly, I would love to donate to organizations truly committed to serving overlooked communities without proper resources and support.

Kayla French (University of Cincinnati ’21), Students For Liberty

How did you hear about the Koch Internship Program, and why were you interested?

When COVID-19 hit I was studying abroad in Spain. I stayed with my host family instead of coming home and quarantined in a house for 54 days without leaving once. The chance to experience the pandemic in another country opened my eyes. I was intrigued by how the government had so much power. By the time I got home, I knew I wanted to research individual freedom. I started looking at programs that had special development growth in that area and came across the Koch Internship Program. I was blown away by the opportunity.

What are your primary responsibilities as an intern?

At Students for Liberty, I’m on the development team. I’m talking to donors and sharing our success stories. I’m also assisting in writing feature stories about our students around the globe who are working in a COVID-19 environment. My latest blog post is my own story about living abroad during the pandemic and how that inspired my involvement in the liberty movement.

How does the Koch Internship Program differ from your past experiences?

What stands out most is the connections I’m making. I feel like the entire Stand Together community is connected to helping, mentoring, and developing me as an individual. This internship focuses on growth. Other internships focused on tasks or administrative work. Everyone at KIP pours knowledge into me, and I’m driving my own experience. My other internships were micromanaged — here I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I best learn and function. That will benefit me in my future education or job.

What has been the most helpful part of the program?

My favorite part of the internship has been programming days. I love the articles we read, and discussing those ideas has been helpful as I work on my capstone project. My first idea for my capstone — a dance program for schoolchildren — didn’t come together. Barriers kept coming up, but it was an opportunity to be vulnerable, learn from failure, and grow out of it. Now I’m working to create a pop-up professional development tent for career fairs in the Cincinnati area. I want to support people in the community, especially during this time, and I know that now because of the challenges I faced.

Now that KIP is ending, what is your next step?

I finish college in May. Then I’m really not sure. KIP has revealed my interest in education — maybe a year teaching abroad? But that could change. We always rush life. I’m going through a life-changing program now with KIP. I’m trying to be fully present and trust that it will all come together.

Madison Piel (Assumption University, ’20), Atlas Network

How did you hear about the Koch Internship Program, and why were you interested?

A friend recommended it to me — I was looking for more professional development and hands-on experience in the nonprofit sector.

The opportunity to do a capstone project drew me to the program. My sister has dyslexia, and I’ve seen my mother go before the school board to get my sister the support she needs to succeed. I’m driven to help, too. So my capstone project is an illustrated book for children who have “invisible” disabilities like dyslexia.

What are your primary responsibilities as an intern?

I’m working on the marketing and communications team at Atlas Network. They’ve let me work on graphics and the podcast. They’ve even let me write, and I’ve had multiple blog posts published. I’ve dipped my foot into every type of work done here. Everyone has let me shadow them and learn, which has been integral to my professional growth.

How does your KIP experience differ from your peers? 

A lot of my friends don’t have jobs yet, so they’re scrambling to find babysitting gigs or are working in bakeries until they can kickstart their careers. I’m lucky to have this internship and to work in the field I’ve studied for the last four years in school.

What has been the most helpful part of the program?

The most useful piece of the program has been my professional mentor. My mentor has connected me to people who can help me develop my capstone project. Through these connections, I’ve been able to secure multiple educational interviews with scholars in the education world to help inform my capstone project. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet these people in any other program.

Now that KIP is ending, what is your next step?

I’ve been hired full-time at Atlas Network. I love learning and I love school, so I’m considering getting my MBA or Ph.D. Eventually I’d like to work in education policy. I’d like to concentrate on individual learning programs and think about how we change schools to unlock potential for students across the learning spectrum.

The Charles Koch Institute inspires and invests in social entrepreneurs developing solutions to America’s most pressing problems. Read more about our educational programs. 

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