UCLA hosts one of the top 10 political science departments in the country, according to College Factual. Despite that, many UCLA students are excluded from public service internships due to a lack of financial assistance.
Public service internships are crucial for those hoping to pursue careers in fields such as advocacy, public policy or law. Such internships provide students with the experience they need for their future endeavors. But the financial barriers that come with interning remain a huge obstacle for many, particularly students from underrepresented backgrounds.
It is crucial UCLA expand existing programs that bridge the gap between students and internships.
It is no secret that pursuing internships is costly. Most congressional internships and all White House internships do not offer any compensation, despite the average 10-week internship costing upwards of $6,000 for cost-of-living expenses. This especially shuts out students from low-income families who simply cannot afford to stay in expensive cities such as Washington without financial assistance.
Chris Howell, the industry relations manager at the UCLA Career Center, said one UCLA student he knew needed to stop their internship at the LA District Attorney’s Office at the San Fernando Courthouse three weeks early in order to pay for gas and parking. Internships in LA are hard enough for students to fund, so the thought of pursuing internships in cities such as Washington or New York are out of the question completely for some students.
Howell said another student told the Career Center that the lack of paid public service internships caused him to work in the UCLA Student Affairs office instead. Howell added the student thinks he is not prepared for entry-level government jobs without a relevant internship experience.
Unfortunately, these are just a few of many stories from those who had to abandon their pursuits due to a lack of funds. For many first-generation students, low-income students and students of color, public service opportunities become barriers rather than pathways to success. This is why UCLA must provide tuition assistance for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who want to pursue internships such as those in public service that are pivotal to career development and professional networking.
The university already has existing programs such as the D.C. Fellows Program that do this. The D.C. Fellows Program provides students with grants for internships in Washington. Although living in the D.C. area over the summer can cost several thousand dollars for housing, transportation, wardrobe, flight tickets and food, this program only provides $1,000 scholarships to students pursuing public service internships. The program also provides housing to up to 20 Bruins in the UC Washington Center, but the housing rates are not subsidized.
The D.C. Fellows Program funds several students every year, but it can and should be strengthened. The Undergraduate Students Association Council’s External Vice President’s office is committed to strengthening the program through two avenues: raising $10,000 to help the program fund more students’ internship experiences and promoting this fellowship program so it reaches students on all parts of campus struggling to finance their internships – not all of whom know about the program.
To achieve the first goal, the EVP office will be raising $10,000 using UCLA Spark, a crowdfunding platform, to provide three scholarships for three Bruins – amounting to approximately $3,300 per student. This is enough to cover a Bruin’s housing for the summer, with additional money remaining to spend on relocation, transportation and food. By increasing the scholarship amount per student, the office would be able to increase access to D.C. internships.
The EVP office is working with the Career Center and Spark to accomplish this new initiative, as it will be one step closer to helping students from low-income backgrounds gain access to impacted internship opportunities.
Now more than ever, we need the support of UCLA students, alumni and friends. We hope to see widespread participation for our Spark campaign, in order to help increase the accessibility of public service internships.
Al-Malssi is a second-year political science and history student. Gowda is a fourth-year chemical engineering student.