5 Steps to Creating & Funding Social Justice Internships

How many times have we heard that working towards social justice doesn’t pay, or that you have to choose between money and dedicating time to helping others? For me, it’s been too many. Before attending college, I worried about how I’d find a good internship if everyone wants to intern and there’s limited paid internships offered.

As Swarthmore students, we have a ton of opportunities to do work that we care about without worrying about funding. This means that students who need or want to earn an income don’t have to choose between their personal and professional goals. One funding opportunity to keep on your radar is the Social Impact Summer Scholarship (SISS), which is one option that you can apply to annually in order to fund what would otherwise be unpaid work. If you enjoy volunteering, are an activist or advocate, or are simply curious about social justice, here are five steps to landing an internship that’s right for you!

1. Think about what matters most

You might already have social issues or problems that you’re ready to tackle. Like many Swatties, maybe your passion for social change motivated you to apply to college, especially to Swarthmore. The Eugene Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, called The Lang Center for short, works with students at all levels who want to get involved with their communities. They actually hire current students to work as Lang Center Associates or LCAs. The LCAs are the go-to experts on different topics like human rights, education access, and economic inequality. They can help you articulate your interests, identify realistic ways that you can take action, and support you as you apply to opportunities that align with your academic goals. Everyone at the Lang Center knows that we can care about social justice and not know where to start, so they organize community events for the entire campus.

When I started my first-year at Swarthmore, I strongly believed that everyone deserves to have an education. I still do! But, it wasn’t until I attended an open house at the Lang Center that I began to consider what about education mattered to me. Now, I know that I care about helping underrepresented students succeed at college and can talk about what the problem is, some of the reasons why it exists, how others are tackling this problem, and where there’s room to grow!

If you’re just starting to brainstorm, start a list of things that bother you. Some great sources of inspiration are your own life of course, as well as conversations with friends and family, current events, online publications, and your future Swarthmore classes.

2. Find ideal internship hosts

Essentially, an internship host is the company or organization where you intern at. Once you’ve narrowed down your list to an issue or two that matters most to you, then you can begin to research who’s already working on this. For example, you can start by Googling “[your topic here] organizations.” Non-profit or non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) might come to your mind first but even a school or local government office could be amazing places to intern for. The greatest part is that your internship doesn’t even have to exist yet! The Lang Center’s Social Impact Summer Scholarship is one funding opportunity at Swarthmore that will pay you to work an unpaid internship, including one that you create with their support and a host that is willing to bring you on board for the summer. This means that you aren’t limited to organizations and companies that already offer internships.

3. Apply for internship funding ASAP

During the fall semester, the Lang Center and other offices that offer funding will host information sessions so that you can learn about these opportunities. Here’s a nice overview! You should definitely try to attend the ones that seem like a good fit because you can usually hear directly from students who have received this grant in the past and got to where you hope to be. After or during January break, applications will open. Most are due in March and though some require recommendation letters, SISS has not required them. Still, there are application questions and you might want to get a mentor’s feedback so be sure to plan for how much time you’ll need. If you’re like me, you might pretend that the due date is one or two days earlier than it actually is, so you don’t have to feel stressed if anything goes wrong all of a sudden.

4. Apply to internships & reach out to potential hosts

If you’re reaching out to a potential host who doesn’t already offer an internship, outline in advance why you want work for them. How do their mission and daily operations align with your goals? In what ways can you contribute and learn from them as a college student? Be sure to reach out to folks as early as you can. Though each email will look different, don’t forget to introduce yourself and Swarthmore,  tell them that you’d love to intern with them, and ask for a brief meeting to discuss such opportunities. Don’t forget to mention the status of your SISS application, including whether you have applied or been granted funding so that no one feels like they have to commit to anything during these initial conversations. Who knows what amazing opportunities you’ll find or develop?!

5. Finalize your plans & get excited about your internship!

There are several funding opportunities available at Swarthmore, so you should definitely consider applying to more than one and to paid internships if you find them. If you’ve been granted SISS, you’ll find out via email so be sure to check it regularly (that’s a good tip for your entire four years!) and stay mindful of deadlines. You’ll likely have to accept the award and complete forms with details about your summer plans. What’s amazing is the Lang Center is always available to support you, whether that’s with finding an internship or wrapping up last minute details with your internship host. Even during your internship, they’re just an email away.

Applying to internships might feel daunting, but if you start the process in advance and ask for help, you’ll surely make it through. The process might even be enjoyable, and is definitely a learning experience that you can use every time you apply for learning opportunities in the future. 

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