Ajok Deng '18 sharing her experience in Nicaragua during the Internship Fellowship poster presentations.

Internship Fellowships: The Good We Do, Together

Jonathan Brown

Students seek out internships—and donors support them—to contribute, to open doors, and because “we can only rise as high as we lift others.”

“I wanted to actually help people,” Ajok Deng ’18 says.

Helping people was at the top of her internship wish list. Working toward a double major in Spanish and global studies, she was looking for the experience and other well-known benefits of internships—but those things simply weren’t enough.

“I didn’t want it to be just about me,” Deng says. “It took some time, and a lot of research, but I found an internship working with kids in the city of Léon, Nicaragua. I was their tutor for math and writing, but we also spent a lot of time on workshops and exercises that focused on them.”

Her eyes light up, as she recalls long talks with her students. “I saw them developing a sense of self, what they could be and how they could contribute to their community—now and in the future.” 

Sarah Coburn says, “That’s a good description of the Internship Fellowship, too.”

Coburn is the associate director of St. Lawrence Career Services and she’s talking about the financial support that helps cover students’ travel and living expenses during unpaid internships.

“We see a very close alignment between the students’ aspirations and our donors’ intentions. Both groups echo what Ajok describes—the sense that we can only rise as high as we lift others.”

This program began in 1997 with a generous donation from Vivien Gardner Hannon ’43 and has grown through additional support and endowments ever since. Now known as the Internship Fellowship award, the funds—from a variety of donors—support undergraduate students who have secured these career-development opportunities. The funding helps offset expenses (cost-of-living, travel and transportation) incurred during their internships. The award has helped hundreds of St. Lawrence students embark on the kind of experience Ajok describes. 

“It’s experiential learning,” Coburn explains. “An internship is an immersion in the workplace—and in work life. Students have to commute, dress professionally, think strategically, take care of pressing business needs, and plan to tackle future work. Most of our students also have to relocate and live far from home for the length of the internship.”

Lengths of commitments vary, but many internships last two months or more. In that time, students experience the demands and deadlines that define the workplace today.

“Most of our students say they want their internships—the immersion itself and the work they do—to matter beyond the scope of their own academic or professional development,” Coburn says. “They’re driven. The Internship Fellowship award simply fuels their accomplishments.”

She says the people who contribute to this fund have a deep appreciation for the potential of experiential learning.

“Donors know that internships open doors,” Coburn says. “They’ve seen how a single internship can change—or even define—someone’s life. And they’ve seen how faculty and career services work with students to find these big opportunities. So most donors don’t tell us where to put the money. They know it will help the students who really need it—and who can do the greatest good with it.”