Sean Witzgall spent 7 months working side-by-side with children. Whether it was planning a youth seminar, working summer camps or coordinating dinners, his experience at the Anthony Muñoz Foundation is something that he can carry with him for a lifetime.
This opportunity was afforded to him because he decided to apply for an unpaid internship. The NKU graduate doesn’t regret his decision in taking an unpaid position. In fact, he believes that it has benefited him in numerous ways.
“Don’t get me wrong, there were hardships. Being a college student, I was already in debt and there were times when it got really tough,” Witzgall said. “I wouldn’t trade the experience in for the paycheck though. Knowing that I made a positive effect on lives of those kids and the community was worth it.”
However, for some NKU students, being paid in experience isn’t enough.
With all the time and effort students must put into an internship, earning some kind of payment, whether it is an hourly wage or stipend, is the only way they can afford to do so.
Michael O’Hara, a senior accounting major, is currently participating in his second paid internship. NKU’s accounting program requires students to partake in at least one internship and all of them are paid positions.
O’Hara acknowledged that not every student has the opportunity to get a paid position but encourages students to try.
“Experience really is key, but I know that some people can’t afford to gain such experience because all that is offered in their field are unpaid positions,” O’Hara said. “To make it worse the paid positions are always more competitive.”
Students seeking out an internship opportunity must consider many factors. Director of Career Services Bill Froude explained some of the components students should deliberate before applying for positions.
“It takes a lot time. Students must be flexible and willing to put in the work to get the most out of the experience,” Froude said.
Career Services, which oversees co-op positions for students, utilizes NKU’s largest database for job opportunities called Norse Recruiting.
Internship positions listed on Norse Recruiting may be paid or unpaid, but students are welcome to apply for course credit for participating.
In the Haile/ US Bank College of Business, the process for applying for credit includes filling out required information like job description, key tasks and responsibilities, and qualifications necessary for the job. This information along with three learning objectives that the students identify at the beginning of the process will then be turned into faculty to review and decide if the experience qualifies for credit.
According to Paul Krieg, the business experience manager for the college of business, the learning objectives are an essential part in determining if the internship is applicable for credit.
“Students must decide what they want to get out of this experience. They must provide a measurable result so for example they say ‘I plan on accomplishing X as measured by Y by doing Z’,” Krieg said.
Krieg also explained that deciding what internships to apply for is the largest challenge students face. His job is to advise students on what employers are following the current employment policies set out by the Department of Labor, but ultimately it is the student’s decision.
“It’s the students decision to take a job or internship and that contract that exists is between the student and employer. Although there are academic components, it is the student’s responsibility to report the internship or job and the faculty will review the validity of it,” Krieg said. “However, I feel that it is my job to help educate the student on whether or not the employer is following the Department of Labor’s Fair Standards Act.”
In the College of Business the competition for intern positions is actually quite low according to Krieg. In fact, as he explains, there are more positions posted then there are students applying.
“One would assume that it would be pretty competitive, but the great thing is that right now we have more positions available, I mean there are a tremendous amount of internship opportunities, and it seems like we just don’t have the students to meet the need from employers,” Krieg said.
On the other hand, the Department of Theatre and Dance handles internships manually and these positions are extremely competitive according to Ken Jones, chair of the Theatre and Dance Department.
According to Jones, these experiences are highly important for students who want to begin their professional careers.
“These students get to work right next to professionals within the community. That is why in the arts world internships are really important especially with theatre and dance,” Jones said. “The opportunity to gain experience is invaluable for example if you go to New York you will find that CBS, NBC and HBO all use unpaid interns. However, they get you right next to casting directors and agents as well as production members. Ours is no different from the big city.”
Jones also stated that the majority of their internships are unpaid.
Currently NKU does not have a policy on internships. However, according to the 2014 plan put out by the academic innovation implementation team, the strategic plan committee is scheduled to create a faculty steering committee that will promote experiential learning.