Experience Needed: Supporting Internships

Amherst College students participating in a summer internship

For many Amherst students, September marks not only the start of the academic year but also the close of a time devoted to College-funded research and skill development.

This summer, 273 Amherst students participated in internships funded (and supported in other ways) by the College’s Center for Community Engagement and Loeb Center for Career Exploration and Planning. (Other Amherst programs offered stipends for about 150 student researchers, most of whom stay on campus.)

College career centers used to focus mainly on helping seniors find jobs, but today, they’re increasingly involved with students from day one, including helping them connect with internships, and then funding those experiences, says Loeb Center director Emily Griffen.

“The fact is, a lot of high-quality internships in the nonprofit sector are unpaid,” she says. “So we've got to fill that gap, because we've decided it's important to us to make sure students have similar opportunities for their professional growth, regardless of what their interests are or their goals are.”

Using about 40 funds provided by alumni and other donors, the College puts about $1 million per year into connecting students with internships and funding those that would otherwise be unpaid or unaffordable.

Amherst staffers first advise students on potential matches. Some 150 potential employers—many of whom are Amherst alumni—visit campus each year, and the College partners with Handshake, a career development and recruitment website connecting students to thousands more internships and other summer opportunities.

While some of these opportunities are paid by employers, a student can apply to receive a $4,500 stipend from Amherst for an internship that would otherwise be unpaid or low-paying. Students with greater financial need are given priority in receiving such stipends.

Supporting summer experiences is one goal of Amherst’s $625 million Promise campaign, a fundraising effort that launched last spring. Under the campaign priority of “Innovation,” the College plans to increase the number of undergraduate research and internship opportunities.

The hotspots for Amherst summer interns are generally the same as those for recent graduates: New York, San Francisco and Boston, and to a lesser extent Chicago and Atlanta. Others choose internships close to campus or their hometowns.

Dr. Jose Abad ’03 is among the alumni partnering with the Loeb Center to find interns: “I always sign up and say, ‘Hey, any student who wants to work with a doctor half-time and then do community work half-time, I have an opportunity for you.’”

Lorena Ukanwa ’19 and Rebecca Correa ’19 shadowed Abad this summer at the Kaiser Permanente Salud en Español clinic in Sacramento, Calif., where every staff member is bilingual. For the second half of the summer, the two students worked with Ventanilla de Salud, a nonprofit joint venture of the Health Education Council and Mexican Embassy that promotes good health in underserved communities.

Others find internships right on campus, in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, for example, where they help to prepare student programming, or in the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Yasmine Huerta’19E worked at the College’s Beneski Museum of Natural History, where her main job was to greet visitors and speak to prospective students and families taking the campus tour. By the end of the summer, she’d put together the text for a self-guided tour of the museum’s mineral displays.

Now in the early days of her fall semester course load, Huerta, a geology major, looks back on her Beneski internship as yet another way to learn and grow, “a good opportunity,” in her words, “to get some well-rounded experience.”