When Juan Flores, ’24, learned that the Stanford in Washington program had secured an opportunity for him to work as a policy intern at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), he was thrilled. There was just one problem: The internship was unpaid.
Flores, a sociology major who plans to attend law school and become an immigration attorney, typically works 20 to 30 hours per week during the school year to pay his bills and send money to his family. Taking an unpaid internship was not an option.
Fortunately, he connected with Stanford Career Education (CareerEd) and learned that he was eligible for a fellowship that is now allowing him to have this valuable experience in the nation’s capital.
Since he started his internship this spring, Flores has already had opportunities to attend congressional hearings, help attorneys prepare discovery documents for a discrimination case, and research topics like the legal needs of English language learners.
“There are other organizations I could have worked for that would’ve paid me, but I really wanted to work for MALDEF because it’s a civil rights organization,” he says. “The fellowship allows me not to worry about not having a paying job.”
New financial support for undergraduates in unpaid internships
The fellowship that Flores received is offered by the newly named Rising Bird Career Fellowship program within CareerEd. The origins of the program date back to 2017, when Addie Swartz, ’82, pioneered and funded a pilot to connect humanities students, as well as first-generation and low-income students, with internships hosted by alumni.
Originally named BEAM Fellows, the Rising Bird program has since evolved to allow students to find their own internship opportunities, and is now able to offer financial support to more unpaid interns, as well as a range of other services for students who are exploring internships. The fellowships are open to all undergraduates, with priority going to returning students with financial need.
The program was recently bolstered by gifts from Tina Rising Bird, ’82, and Jeff Bird, ’82, MD ’86, PhD ’88, and an anonymous donor. It and its predecessor program have also been supported by Wendy Fisher, ’85, MBA ’92, through the Wendy Fisher Fund; former CareerEd volunteer Jim Munger, ’49, MS ’50; and Addie Swartz, ’82. Their generous gifts are enabling the Rising Bird Career Fellowship program to offer more stipends of up to $6,500 to students like Flores who would like to take an unpaid internship, while also funding a range of other support services.
“Experiential learning opportunities like internships, externships, and projects allow students to explore their interests and develop transferable skills that will help advance their careers. CareerEd wants to ensure all students have equitable access to these opportunities, even when they are unpaid. We are so grateful to the donors who have stepped up to make these experiences possible for students,” says Jennifer Rowland, assistant dean for CareerEd and associate director for experiential learning.
Rising Bird fellowships are already enabling undergraduates to take exciting internships during the academic year.
Biak Tha Hlawn, ’25, has been participating in two consecutive internships at Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee to try out different roles and help her decide on a career path.
During winter quarter, she worked virtually with the sculpture garden’s social media marketing team. This spring, she is helping to organize a summer-long celebration of World Refugee Day that includes a fashion show, a craft market, and a music day.
She hopes to include her own creation in the fashion show: a handwoven outfit that represents the Chin State in Myanmar, where she is from.
“As a refugee, it’s been important for me to work to preserve my own culture,” Hlawn says. “Handweaving is something that only the elders of our community know how to do. It’s been a practical but personal journey for me to explore that designer side of things.”
The Rising Bird Career Fellows program recently supported its inaugural cohort of summer 2023 interns. They include students who will work with a wide range of employers across the nonprofit, government, and for-profit sectors in locations spanning the United States as well as international destinations such as Denmark, Ghana, India, and Nepal.
New workshops and classes for all students
In addition to financial support, CareerEd offers year-round coaching, mentorship opportunities with Stanford alumni, and a new series of workshops and credit-bearing classes designed to help students find and succeed in internships.
The new series features learning opportunities throughout the year:
Winter | “How to Get an Internship,” a four-part workshop series that helps students find and apply for summer internships
Spring | UAR14: InternPrepare (1 unit), a four-session class in which students learn how to make the most of their summer internship experience
Summer | Virtual check-ins, consisting of two group sessions created to allow students to connect with each other, reflect on and learn from each other’s internship experiences, and ask questions of CareerEd staff
Fall | UAR13: InternConnect (1 unit), a four-session class that helps students translate internship experiences into future opportunities
The generous gifts from alumni have allowed CareerEd to develop and offer these year-round programs in partnership with the Stanford Life Design Lab.
“We combine design thinking and career education to help students adapt and thrive in new and changing work environments,” says Kathy Davies, managing director and studio lead at the lab.
Engineering student Steven Liu, ’26, took the winter workshops and used what he learned to land a summer internship at Anthro Energy, a San Jose company that is developing flexible batteries.
He says that he came away from the workshops with a better understanding of how to excel in an interview:
“If someone asks me to explain something I’m good at, I learned that I should add a story to support my argument. When they explain it [during the workshop], it makes sense, but it’s not really common knowledge.”
Taking flight through internships
Rowland hopes that even more undergraduates will explore the ways CareerEd can support their internship and career goals, especially now that the program is able to offer more financial support and year-round services thanks to generous gifts.
“We offer services for students at all stages of the internship process,” she says. “Some students might be interested in landing summer internships but have no idea where to start looking. Our coaching services can help. Other students might be starting internships soon and interested in our summer check-ins or fall class, which can help them get the most out of their experience. It really depends on the student, but there’s something for everyone.”
“The Rising Bird Career Fellowship program represents a bold move forward in helping Stanford students to secure the internships that they need to advance their careers,” Rowland says.