Internships in City a difficult balancing act, but rewarding

Each semester, a portion of the student body completes internships in New York City, as well as local student teacher placements. Although work placements are often necessary steps towards securing employment after graduation, balancing these vocational ventures with schoolwork, as well has paying for transportation costs, makes these placements difficult for some students to complete.

For Vassar students, work placements such as internships and student teaching serve as critical stepping-stones to starting a career.

“Practical experiences like internships offer students a chance to connect what they are learning in the classroom to the larger world of work, and provide an opportunity to put their transferable skills into action,” wrote Stacy Bingham, Director of the Career Development Office (CDO), in an emailed statement.

“I think the end result is that students who participate in meaningful experiences outside the classroom (whether through internships, field work, volunteerism, campus leadership, etc.) are better able to connect the dots between life at Vassar and life after Vassar,” she added.

Vassar Student Association President Deborah Steinberg ’14, who acquired a position at Senator Kirsten Gilliband’s New York City office, hopes to use her internship to explore her career interests in public policy. Working as a Constituent Services Intern in Consumer Affairs, Steinberg is assisting a team that responds to inquiries from Gillbrand’s constituents about housing, mortgages, unemployment, and agriculture.

Although the internship is only twice a week, Steinberg anticipates that balancing her internship with schoolwork and extracurriculars will be difficult.

“The first day was particularly challenging, because all I wanted to do was check my email and make sure no one needed anything from me, and I was anxious the entire day,” Steinberg admitted. “And to be fair, I did have like 40 emails when I got home. I think I just have to be really conscious about how I use my time and how I manage it.”

In the fall of 2012, Matt Ortile ’14 regularly commuted into New York for an internship with Town and Country magazine. He credits his experience interning during the school year with opening up other internship opportunities in his desired field.

“It looked great…that I was willing to commute from Vassar to New York City with a full course load. It makes it look really good because it shows that you are dedicated, it shows that you can balance things,” he said.

In addition to carefully scheduling their time, interns commuting into New York also face the monetary burden of paying for travel expenses. For students wishing to commute into the city, the Field Work Office offers a $200 stipend to offset transportation costs. However, a ten-trip rail pass from Metro North that would allow one to travel during peak commuting hours costs $227.50. From the first week of September to the first week of December, a student taking the train twice a week, to and from Poughkeepsie, would be commuting 52 times, thus requiring five passes and one additional round trip ticket.

“Train fare in particular is costly and the $200 subsidy would not cover the cost of commuting into NYC one day a week for the semester,” wrote Bingham. “In this way, yes, I would say that transportation cost might affect a student’s ability to take an internship, especially one in the city.”

Director of Field Work Peter Leonard emphasizes that the Field Work Office does work to subsidize transportation costs for all students who are commuting to internships. “If you are commuting locally, we have subsidized taxis, where you pay $45 and they get you back and forth, which is a great deal. If you drive, we give you $60 for gas.”

“The students going to New York are going further [than the students traveling locally], and their stipend increases to $200. I think we should emphasize that $200 is still a lot…But if we had more money, I would love it for students to travel for free,” Leonard added.

However in some cases, it is possible to apply for addition funds through other channels. Ortile, a Media Studies and English double major, was able to secure additional transportation funds through the Media Studies department. Steinberg is applying to the June Ross Marks ’49 Travel Fund and the Academic Enrichment Fund, both of which are administered by the Dean of Studies Office. Each fund grants students up to $500 and can be used toward offsetting costs associated with fieldwork.

Although students always have the option to complete an internship in New York City, students hoping to get their New York State teaching certification through the Education Department must go out into the community to student teach as part of the Education curriculum.

Caroline Locke ’14 is currently working as a student teacher five days a week in order to get her New York State teaching certification.

“I think transportation has always been a challenge with student teaching and field work placements, especially since the college does not always have its pick of available and accessible local schools,” wrote Locke in an emailed statement.

“I don’t expect to be paying too much for gas, but some other teachers are placed further away in different districts and it seems unfair that they should have to be paying out of pocket more for something that is required for their education.”

Vassar’s Education Department does have a small fund that can be used to offset transportation costs. In an emailed statement, Associate Professor and Chair of Education Christopher Bjork wrote, “We realize that these funds will not cover all of students’ expenses, but we try to help out as much as we can, given our small budget.”

In addition to these funds, the Education department interviews students a year before they begin student teaching. During this time, students share any information that may help the department with placing them in a school.

“If a student does not have a car, we try our best to place the student at a school within walking distance,” wrote Bjork.

However, Bjork notes that accommodating student requests has become increasingly difficult. “Over the last couple of years, making those placements has gotten extremely difficult. Several school districts no longer accept student teachers. We still try our best to honor student teachers’ placement requests.”

However, some fear that that the financial burden of fully paying for transportation costs may deter some students from taking work placements outside of Vassar.

When asked if he felt transportation costs deterred students from taking field work placements in the city, Leonard replied, “If your family is rich it is not problem at all. If your family is poor—of course it deters them. How could it not deter them?”

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