Battle Cry of Paid Interns: “We’ll Do Whatever You Want Us to Do”

By Caitlyn Maltese
Elm Staff Writer

Internships don’t always have to be unpaid labor. Washington College’s Comegys Bight Fellowship program offers students the opportunity to be paid while gaining experience at institutions all over the world that specialize in anything from history to anthropology.

The program is run through WC’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, a center on campus committed to engaging in and enhancing students’ and the communities’ knowledge of American history.

Through the fellowship, students are paid an average of $10 an hour, partnering with institutions like the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Library of Congress, Maryland Historical Society, and Mount Vernon.

Brittany Weaver, Class of 2014, (left) worked as the marketing and communications intern at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta this past summer.
Brittany Weaver, Class of 2014, (left) worked as the marketing and communications intern at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta this past summer.

Senior Sydney Sznajder spent the summer of 2013 working in Washington DC in the publishing department of the Library of Congress. She worked alongside two other graduate students from larger universities; however, unlike those students, Sznajder got paid. The Comegys Bight Fellowship program awarded Sznajder a stipend that compensated her for her work.

In the publishing department, the interns were loosely assigned to editors based on their interests. “Day to day there was no strict idea of what you’d be doing,” said Sznajder.  “You’d show up to work and do whatever they needed from you- that’s sort of the battle cry of the intern, ‘We’ll do whatever you want us to do’.”

“It’s weird how much I learned about…what it’s like to work from nine to five. I’d never done that before…you learn a lot about how draining it is and what life will be like after college. It made me feel like a pretend adult – an adult in practice,” she said.

Sznajder received a grant from the Cater Society for Junior Fellows that covered her housing expenses and in turn she worked on a creative writing project aside from her daily intern tasks. She said, “I wanted to write based on materials that are unique to this library. I want to take these iconic American things and use them as an inspirational basis and trace them through time.”

Sznajder wasn’t the only one that took full advantage of the opportunity. Senior Alex Levy spent 10 weeks last summer working at Mount Vernon at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the study of George Washington and received four credits for her internship.

“I spent six weeks with the education department,” said Levy. “Initially, I was looking at being a museum curator, but after spending six weeks there…I really liked the education track.”

Working side-by-side with historians and exhibit designers got Levy excited for life after graduation. “It’s really nerdy, but I get so excited when I  think about it. I got to create how people see the history. I have just always been intrigued by the idea that man is conscious enough to preserve his own history,” said Levy.

Levy lives in northern New Jersey, so finding temporary housing in the area was difficult. She posted in the Facebook group of Washington DC alumni and within the hour a 1975 alumna contacted her. Her and her husband lived two miles away from Mount Vernon and had a couple of empty rooms because their kids had all moved out. “I kept trying to give them rent, but they wouldn’t take it…I really lucked out,” said Levy.

For the summer of 2013, senior Jackie Gitlin worked at the Office of the Historian of the House of Representatives. “Most of my job was looking through public databases to answer public inquires or to answer questions that the own staff had for their own research,” she said.

The Office of the Historian is in the basement of  the Cannon House Office Building, the oldest of its kind still standing. “We were in the tunnels under Congress,” said Gitlin.  “There were so many people there…because they are all connected. You can walk underground from the Cannon Building to the Capitol…to the Senate buildings. You never have to go above ground.”

As an education major, Gitlin had the invaluable opportunity to work with the office on creating educational materials like document based questions for Advanced Placement (AP) students. “It really cemented the fact for me that I wanted to work in education,” she said.

The Comegys Bight Fellowship program and the C.V. Starr Center places interested students in new summer internships every year, and the application information is posted for next year. Applications for next summer are due March 2, 2015.

“The C.V. Starr Center…really cares so much about your experience, which is why it’s such a wonderful thing to do, and it’s paid,” said Levy.

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