Harrisburg program supports students completing unpaid internships

Faaiq Rizwan, wearing scrubs and giving two thumbs up, stands near a Nittany Lion statue at Penn State Health Milton St. Hershey Medical Center

Penn State Harrisburg student Faaiq Rizwan completed an internship at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. His internship was unpaid, but through Penn State Harrisburg’s Career Center Internship Endowment, Rizwan received financial support – assistance that made the internship possible for him.

Credit: Faaiq Rizwan

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Last summer, an internship at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center allowed Faaiq Rizwan, a second-year Penn State Harrisburg student, to shadow emergency department doctors, spend time talking to patients with dementia and assist in the chemotherapy pharmacy, among other activities.

Rizwan said he’s always thought about medical school, but the internship helped solidify that it’s the career path he wants to pursue.

His internship was unpaid, but through Penn State Harrisburg’s Career Center Internship Endowment, Rizwan received financial support — assistance that made the internship possible for him.

“Paid internships are incredibly difficult to get. They’re incredibly competitive,” Rizwan said.

The alternative is unpaid internships, he said, but then students must cover all of their costs like housing, food and transportation.

“This scholarship met those needs and helped out, making the whole unpaid internship possible,” he said. “If I had to balance working a part-time job as well as a 160-hour internship, it would have been very difficult. The [scholarship] helped with those costs and allowed me to focus on the internship.”

The Career Center Internship Endowment comes from a gift from the John Crain Kunkel Foundation in 2019, which helped expand the college’s career services office. In honor of the foundation’s support, the Career Services office was renamed the John Crain Kunkel Career Center.

"The Kunkel Foundation is pleased to support students who are doing unpaid internships because of the positive impact they have on our local community,” said William (Terry) Wright, president of the John Crain Kunkel Foundation. “These students are gaining valuable experiences that they otherwise may not be able to afford."

The internship endowment offers students financial support for unpaid internships with nonprofits and community agencies. Students must already have an internship secured to apply for the funding.

The program was piloted last summer, when 10 students received funding of about $2,500 each, according to Marcela Service Manzo, assistant director of the career center. Applications are now open for summer 2024, when she expects similar funding to be awarded. Full eligibility details and application information are available on the Career Center’s website.  

Service Manzo said she’s excited to see more applications coming in this year.

“For students in the humanities especially, most of the opportunities they may have available in internships would not be paid or would offer really low pay,” Service Manzo said. “It’s really tough for students to choose. They have responsibilities, too. They have to be able to sustain themselves.”

Students might have to decide between a job that pays, but is unrelated to their future career field, and an unpaid internship that could help advance them on their career path, Service Manzo said. That’s why the internship endowment can be helpful.

“This is really a way to support the students,” Service Manzo said. “It’s not a wage replacement, but it’s help that makes it easier for students to gain relevant, significant experience that relates to what they want to do in their next steps. So as they go through college, they can become more marketable as they get ready to transition into the workforce and maximize their opportunities upon graduation.”

Service Manzo noted that nonprofits and the public sector offer a significant number of unpaid internships. Unfortunately, she said, unpaid internships can have negative implications from an equity standpoint.

“Ideally we’d love to get to a point where it’s feasible for the nonprofits or community agencies to be able to pay the students,” Service Manzo said. “While we get there, this is a way we can support a little bit.”

Service Manzo said she hopes to find additional donors to support the program in the future. Gifts to the Career Center Internship Endowment advance the University’s historic land-grant mission to serve and lead. Through philanthropy, alumni and friends are helping students to join the Penn State family and prepare for lifelong success; driving research, outreach and economic development that grow our shared strength and readiness for the future; and increasing the University’s impact for families, patients and communities across the commonwealth and around the world. Learn more by visiting raise.psu.edu.