By Kaila Braley
Robert Cardoza is a sociology major and nontraditional student who undertook an internship at the Framingham-based Samaritans Crisis Call Center last semester under the assumption he would have to accept an unpaid internship.
The center unexpectedly closed down on his second day there. Cardoza said, “At that point, I was so far along in the process, and had few other options, that I was determined to continue on with the Samaritans.”
He decided to commute to the Boston oIce, which he said would have been difficult for him to afford had he not been able to get paid through the CHOICE internship program offered at FSU.
“Without the CHOICE paid wage, I could not have” commuted to Boston three to four days a week, he said, adding that he also looked for another full-time job to help his financial situation.
The CHOICE internship program, which stands for Community/Hometown Organizations Internships and Cooperative Education, is a system in which students can work at unpaid internships at a community or nonprofit organization, receive academic credit and get paid through the school.
This is the second year FSU has participated in this program, which has grown from six interns last summer to 16 this semester.
Dawn Ross, internship coordinator, said the members of the Board of Higher Education thought internships were out of reach of many students who couldn’t afford to take time away from their jobs to work for free elsewhere.
Executive Vice President Dale Hamel said the state gave FSU a $55,000 grant through the Board of Higher Education as part of the State University Initiative program. This money was given under the stipulation that the school match this amount with private funding – which includes redirected funds as well as private donations – giving the program a total of $110,000.
Hamel said, “The idea there is to provide a matching component to encourage the expansion of internship programs for state university students in line with the Vision Project that is put forward by the Department of Higher Education.”
Students who qualify for a CHOICE internship make on average $10 an hour and can work between eight and 10 hours a week.
In order to qualify for a CHOICE internship, a student must earn academic credit for the position, file the FAFSA form and receive Financial Aid approval, be a full-time undergraduate student and a Massachusetts resident and fill out the Student Contractor payroll paperwork. Students are required to have a 3.00 GPA or above.
The student must also get approval from a faculty Internship advisor, CHOICE internship employer and internship coordinator. Finally, the student must apply for CHOICE positions through the Ramtrack service – a website run by FSU’s Career Services Department that lists job and internship opportunities for Framingham State students and alumni.
Every school which uses this program employs a different model, but Ross said Hamel “came up with an initial brilliant idea” for FSU’s model in which the internships are focused on nonprofit, government and community organizations which benefit the community.
Hamel said, “As the name implies, it gives students a choice” to have the opportunity to gain “real world” experience in either nonprofit or for profit organizations.
He said the nonprofit definition is “broad.”
According to Ross, the CHOICE program includes positions on campus at sites such as the Independent Alumni House and the Entrepreneur Innovation Center when it opens next year.
Senior communication arts major Siobhan McLernon worked as an intern at the Independent Alumni House this past summer doing “media, design and marketing.”
She said it was an “incredible opportunity,” since it’s “almost unheard of” to Ond a paid internship in her field.
Robert Krim, the director of the Entrepreneur Innovation Center, said there will be about five
internships available, in which interns will work with local entrepreneurs on their start-up businesses. These interns will be paid through either the CHOICE or CELTSS programs. CELTSS is a funding program that supports faculty members’ innovative projects.
Krim said this opportunity is “very exciting.”
Hamel added that as President of the Framingham Downtown Renaissance, a program that has been working on the development of downtown Framingham, he saw a need for the University to become involved in the local economy. He added there may be an internship available for a student to work with the Framingham Downtown Renaissance.
Laura Stagliola, a senior history major, was a Tom Desilets Memorial Intern at the Framingham
Historical Center this summer, and said she likes the focus the CHOICE program has on the
“Getting to work with the Dennison Manufacturing Company, which was a company in Framingham for almost 100 years, is really cool,” she said. “They had Framingham students who worked there, so you can tie everything back. I just think Framingham is an important town to recognize.”
Stagliola added that the CHOICE program allowed her to be able to take the internship in the first place. “The Framingham History Center wasn’t able to pay me to be an intern, and I wasn’t going to accept a job I wasn’t going to get paid for, unfortunately.”
Leah Toso, a nontraditional psychology major, said it’s difficult to do an internship as a full-time student with a full-time job. She would have had to take eight to 10 hours a week away from her job in order to work as an intern. “That would be very difficult for me, you know, because I need the money to pay my bills.”
Toso is an intern this semester at the Metrowest Worker Center, where she helps workers stay organized and efficient. Many of these workers come from Brazil, Ecuador and other Central American countries, so she also translates and interprets for them.
“I want to work with my community, and I really like my job right now,” she said.
Toso added that the process of getting the internship was easy. “Dawn made it easy.”
Along with helping the community, Ross said the internships greatly benefit the students who do the work. “NACCE [The National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship] says that 80 percent of employers take internships into consideration. ... Employers want to see an internship on a resume. It gives practical experience.”
Holly Arsenault, a senior sociology major, is an intern at the Genesis Counseling Services in Framingham this semester. She has been spending 10 hours a week getting hands-on experience such as “observing the psycho-educational and ongoing therapy groups, where I get to record progress notes on each client following the group session.”
She added that when she “found out it was a CHOICE internship, that was just an added bonus.”
Ross also emphasized “the networking piece,” saying that internships are a great way to meet
professionals in a particular field who may help students get a job after they graduate.
Ross added that the availability of internships has increased, since businesses that couldn’t afford an internship program before now can benefit from having one. She encourages students to ask her about any internship ideas they have since positions can be created through this program.
The business gets free labor, she explained, so a lot of agencies which didn’t offer an internship before now “want to take advantage of the program.”
The internship must also provide an educational aspect, she added.
“It’s so important for students to do internships,” Ross said. “Two is better. I would recommend three!”