Internship grant supports 175 students this summer

Carolina's Summer Internship Grant helps students pay for their living expenses while they gain work experience in their fields.

Daira Melendez fills a bottle of water in the Galapagos.
With the help of the Summer Internship Grant, Daira Melendez took a position as a research intern at the Galapagos Science Center in Ecuador. She is one of the 175 supported by the internship grant.

A rising junior studying political science, public policy and environmental science, Anders Davidson Pokela snagged the perfect summer internship teaching residents how to reduce their energy usage.

While interning with Green Spaces Chattanooga was a natural fit, it also presented a significant challenge: How could Pokela afford to spend the summer 400 miles from his Greensboro home?

That’s where Carolina’s Summer Internship Grant came into play. The grant helps students pay for their living expenses while they gain work experience in their fields. Pokela received a Summer Internship Grant and was able to accept the internship in Chattanooga.

“As I’m figuring out what I want to do in my career, it’s great to be able to blend my interests of policy and the environment into a single internship,” he said. “But because it’s in Chattanooga, it would be tough for me to pursue this internship without the grant, so I’m very grateful to everyone involved in making this happen.”

Internships are becoming more critical than ever, said Holley Nichols, senior assistant director for scholarships in the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid. But because internships are often unpaid, many students are unable to participate in the internship experience.

“More and more research is pointing out that experiential learning opportunities are really important for landing your first job after graduation—maybe even more important than the major that you choose,” she said. “So for me, it’s a lot of fun to be able to work with students and help them see what could be, and to show them that they can make this happen.”

Mike Brown, the father of a Carolina alumnus, launched the scholarship after his daughter was offered a prestigious unpaid internship in Washington D.C. and experienced the financial drawbacks of accepting an unpaid internship firsthand.

In 2013, Brown’s idea supported nearly two dozen students. This year, 175 students received funding through the program, thanks in large part to a generous gift from the Koman family of St. Louis, Missouri.

“These students are at a disadvantage,” said John McDowell, a Carolina alumnus and donor to the program, “but if they can find an opportunity that is very meaningful to their program at Carolina and their first job afterward, let’s try to make that happen. It doesn’t take a huge contribution to make a big difference.”

Students find their internship opportunities on their own and submit a proposal for funding, including a budget of expected living expenses. Every award amount is different, but Nichols said one thing is consistent: all award recipients are proactive students preparing themselves for success.

“Carolina is about giving bright students the opportunities they deserve,” said Nichols. “That’s the nature of this institution, and that’s what this internship grant does too. It lets bright students go be bright students.”

One of those students is Hannah Crook, a rising senior who is using her summer internship grant to explore payment reform and its effects on people with serious illnesses at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy in Washington D.C.

“[The internship] is helping me develop and narrow my career interests,” said Crook, who is pursuing a double major in economics and health policy and management. “I’m learning a lot from my supervisor and coworkers, and I feel like I’m helping to contribute something meaningful to the project.”

Nichols said she hopes the program will continue to grow, offering more students the opportunity to pursue ambitious learning experiences no matter their backgrounds.

“This grant aligns with UNC-Chapel Hill’s mission of creating opportunities for students regardless of the family that they come from.”