Experience may mean no cash for students

MARIETTA – For many students, securing a summer internship is not an option but a necessity.

Much like the job market, the internship market is competitive and students sometimes end up accepting unpaid positions, sacrificing a summer income to get experience in their field of study.

“I really feel like the trend is unpaid and people feel like they better take what they can get to get the experience,” said Bret Frye, co-owner and dentist at Frye Dental Group in Marietta.

Frye, whose one summer intern is paid, said he has also offered unpaid internships in the past. The decision whether to pay depends on the business having the funding to pay an intern and the ability level of the intern, he said.

The Memorial Health System offers a handful of internships that while rich in experience, are unpaid, said Jennifer Offenberger, director of marketing and public relations for the Memorial Health System.

“Many of our internships are done through school programs and are used for credit through class,” she said.

Receiving college credit through an internship is one of the criteria that exempts for-profit companies from paying students, said Hilles Hughes, director of Career Services at Marietta College. The criteria for offering an unpaid internship is outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, she said, even though the term intern wasn’t yet used then.

“It’s very difficult for for-profit companies to hire students and not pay them unless the student is getting academic credit. If they are getting credit it becomes a little less onerous because students feel like they are getting something out of it,” said Hughes.

However, the unpaid loophole in the standards has gotten some pushback lately, as a handful of students have brought lawsuits against their summer internship provider.

On Tuesday, a U.S. District Judge issued a summary judgment saying Fox Searchlight Pictures had violated minimum wage laws by not paying interns who worked on 2010’s “Black Swan.” The judge also opened the doors for a class action lawsuit for all interns who worked under parent company Fox Entertainment Group.

A 2010 report by the Economic Policy Institute found that the rise of unpaid internships is even more detrimental to students from low-income families.

These students often do not have the time to take on a second, paying job, and are saddled with travel, housing and other living expenses while they perform their internship duties, it said.

“Low-income students are either denied the opportunity to participate in these valuable experiences, or must take on significant debt in order to receive the same advantages as their higher income peers,” said the report.

For many students, summer living expenses mean it would be hard, if not impossible, to go without any summer earnings.

That’s why Lower Salem resident Jessica Daye, 19, considers herself lucky to secure payment for her summer internship through her college.

Daye, who is interning in management services at Peoples Bank, was able to obtain a stipend through Berea College in Kentucky.

“They know it’s hard to find internships that are paid, so if you find one that is unpaid they compensate you,” said Daye of the program.

But without the program, she would likely have to work a second job after her internship program, she said.

“I live on my own. So I don’t think I could take an unpaid internship unless I can have a night job. I would have had to look for like a waitressing job or something,” she said.

Thanks to the program, Daye was able to accept a summer position that closely resembles what she wants to do in the long run, she said.

Marietta College student Becca Thomas also lauded the ideal internship situation she found herself in this summer.

Thomas, 21, is required to perform an internship for her graphic design major and was able to find a local internship through Stonewall Retail Marketing Group.

“I didn’t accept the internship knowing it would be paid. After I said yes, they told me I was going to be paid,” said Thomas, who lives in Kent, but is staying on Marietta College’s campus this summer as a Resident Assistant.

But Thomas is worried that some of her fellow majors have not yet secured an internship at all.

“It just goes to show how difficult it is,” said Thomas, who cold-called several area businesses and jokingly said she bothered her now-boss until he agreed to take her on as an intern.

Besides Daye’s internship, Peoples Bank is also offering paid internships to two other students this summer.

When deciding whether or not to offer internships, the bank first wants to make sure it can offer them career-related work to do, said Tyler Wilcox, director of Human Resources at Peoples Bank.

“We want to make sure if we offer (internships) it is going to be a way for them to get meaningful experience at the bank,” he said.

In fact, the bank often uses its summer internship program as a way to recruit candidates for employment, he said.

Danielle Brodie, 20, is working as a paid marketing intern at Peoples Bank. She has been given a project that is hers entirely, she said.

“I’m working on a marketing project with student checking accounts and I actually have a lot of free reign,” said Brodie, who is brainstorming guerrilla marketing ideas for the campaign.

Brodie, who lives in Mineral Wells, would have accepted the summer internship for no pay. The experience is incredibly important, she said.

“I do a lot of extracurriculars through the college. But that stuff can kind of get overlooked on a resume. Where if employers see an internship, that stands out,” she said.