When her teaching assistant internship got scrapped overnight last summer, Pace University student Vicky Trieu, 22, of Secaucus, NJ, didn’t miss a beat. The child education major landed a replacement opportunity through a new Pace initiative, New York
Author: Vicki Salemi
Published: 2021-02-28 08:39 am
College students are turning to nonprofits for valuable intern opportunities

When her teaching assistant internship got scrapped overnight last summer, Pace University student Vicky Trieu, 22, of Secaucus, NJ, didn’t miss a beat.

The child education major landed a replacement opportunity through a new Pace initiative, New York Recovery Internships, which pairs students with local nonprofit organizations. Trieu joined up with the Urban League, a civil rights and urban advocacy organization, for 28 hours each week.

“This came at a time that I unexpectedly needed it the most,” said Trieu, who worked on education research. Although it was not a teaching role, she said it “ultimately enabled me to grow as a future educator.”

Last year, Pace placed 65 of its students with 24 nonprofits, paying interns $15 an hour raised by the school.

Phyllis Mooney, executive director of career services at Pace, said, “This program is a highlight of my career. It’s growing two trees with one seed. Such a fantastic opportunity for the students and for the nonprofits who were impacted by COVID-19.”

In addition to gaining skills and helping nonprofits that typically rely on in-person events for fund-raising, interns got a glimpse into nonprofit careers. “Students think nonprofit means no money,” said Mooney. “Look at these nonprofits! Don’t eliminate nonprofits from your thinking. There is a future, this is great work, and it pays.”

Pace student Jonathan Gerweck, 20, of North Wales, Pa., initially felt “stuck” professionally at home before interning with the New York Disaster Interfaith Services, an organization providing disaster readiness, response and recovery services to New York City. Gerweck worked a COVID-19 hotline and helped manage financial assistance to vulnerable populations. He gained skills, experience and connections.

“The best part was the priceless opportunity to help New York — all from my bedroom in suburban Pennsylvania,” he said. “Being able to give back while earning professional experience was a unique opportunity.”

Latino U College Access, a White Plains-based organization making college a reality for students who are the first in their families to attend college, hosted a Pace intern last summer and will host two more Pace students this summer.

Cosette Gutierrez, LUCA deputy executive director, evaluated intern applications from all majors who possess “strong interpersonal skills, a positive attitude and an entrepreneurial spirit.” She paired the intern with a manager who created weekly assignments while communicating daily on Zoom, Google Meet and Slack. The intern gained skills in operations and administration by conducting outreach, creating online materials, recruiting attendees and tracking registrations.

“Despite multifaceted challenges, we are proud that our mission and services continued without any interruption this year,” said Gutierrez.

Pace is now gearing up to post summer internships in May, paying interns $16 an hour. But it’s not the only school helping organizations thrive. Jakub Zak, 19, of Wallington, NJ, is studying finance at Ramapo College of New Jersey. His 10-week remote summer internship was with the college’s Small Business Development Center, which supports small to mid-size businesses including nonprofits in Bergen County. Zak reviewed financials, budgeting and forecasting, working closely with an SBDC business consultant.

Jakub Zak, a finance major at Ramapo College of New Jersey, says he “was able to develop my analytical skills,” at his remote internship with his college’s Small Business Development Center.
New Jersey Small Business Development Center at Ramapo College

“Every time I made a business plan for a client, I was able to develop my analytical skills,” said Zak. “When I first entered college, I wouldn’t envision doing all of my work on a computer. I always envisioned shaking hands. It’s been a success, because of the people I work with, they’re class acts, open to communications. We can call, text, e-mail — there’s a nice bond.”

Zak sustained his internship throughout the school year, all while maintaining a 3.88 GPA, and will continue throughout the summer.

“I have good grades to feel a sense of accomplishment, but [this] sense of accomplishment is different because you actually help a business. You see the open sign on the door — you’re authentically helping someone,” said Zak.

“Business doesn’t stop,” said Vince Vicari, the regional director of the SBDC. “In order to jump on that moving train, students are perfectly poised to be passengers, and they’ve jumped on with a vengeance. I’m so proud of what these students have achieved.”

Last summer, 24 interns worked for the center, and Vicari anticipates expansion this summer. Positions will post on the career management platform Handshake in May.“ There’s no shortage of clients,” said Vicari. “There’s an opportunity to coordinate public services to help our economy recover.”

At Drew University, Nohemy Zabala, 22, also experienced hands-on learning with a mission to impact society. The political science and business double major interned last summer for Washington, DC-based lobby firm Lobbyit, as well as for Morris County’s Center for Citizenship and Legal Immigration, conducting legal research and studying case briefs from the Supreme Court.

Drew University student Nohemy Zabala says she “was able to improve my professional career as well as give back to my community,” after interning for both Washington, DC-based lobby firm Lobbyit and Morris County’s Center for Citizenship and Legal Immigration.
Courtesy of Nohemy Zabala

“I was able to improve my professional career as well as give back to my community because I could do everything from home,” said Zabala.

Zabala is a civic scholar — the recipient of a community service-based scholarship program, whereby students participate in internships and volunteer in civic engagement opportunities.

While earning a stipend of $3,000 as part of the university’s Gov. Thomas Kean Summer Internship Program and working from her bedroom, Zabala honed time management skills by juggling both internships, since supervisors were “super accessible” for frequent check-ins.

By managing deadlines, she was able to “do the job I needed to do in the time I committed to.” Zabala also translated clients’ written life experiences “carefully and accurately” from Spanish to English for attorneys who defended clients affected by changes in immigration laws.

“Being able to contribute to the bigger picture uplifted my spirits and kept me going,” she said.

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