Internships are often touted as a key to future career success. But working internships can be made infinitely more difficult for students whose parents can’t afford to supplement their living expenses while they build their resume. That’s because many internships remain unpaid. In fact, reports show that of the 61 percent of students who interned during college, over half worked unpaid positions.
Opening up access to internships allows people to tap into the networks and mentors that can set them up for entry-level opportunities. Before a professional relationship evolves into a mentorship, the mentor and mentee need a “genuine” familiarity with each other, so internships can serve as a foundation for that guidance.
Launched last year, Pay Our Interns, a bipartisan nonprofit, recognized the lack of advocates fighting for organizations to pay their interns, especially jobs in the public sector located in hubs like Washington, D.C. and New York. The group wants to change the privilege pipeline that oftens rewards young professionals from wealthy, connected backgrounds and leaves low-income, people of color out of the running for opportunities in their respective fields.
As part of our series on mentorship, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” I spoke with with Pay Our Interns founder, Carlos Mark Vera, to talk about his struggle interning for free as a first-generation college student and who guided him along the way as he explored passions in politics and advocacy. The conversation that follows has been edited for length and clarity.