Sayde Simpson spent hours as a young girl at parades and volunteering to convince voters her grandfather deserved to be on city council in Independence, Mo.
Now, as a junior political science and global studies double major, Simpson still finds herself wrapped up in the world of politics and unpaid work.
In mid-January while in her academic advisor’s office, Simpson stumbled upon an unpaid internship opportunity with Jane Raybould, Nebraska’s Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in the forthcoming 2018 midterm elections. Due to her interest in politics and Jane Raybould, Simpson knew that working on her campaign was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I was very persistent,” she said. “I kept calling the internship director until she eventually offered me the position.”
Throughout the 2018 spring semester, Simpson spent anywhere from 10 to 60 hours each week making call sheets.
“Essentially, I would help gather info on voters, such as if they’ve donated more to Republican or Democratic campaigns, through a website called OpenSecrets[.org],” she said. “Then I would compile their info to give to Jane so she can reach out to the voters.”
For Simpson, the experiences she gained from the internship were payment enough.
“I’ve learned more about the political process through this internship than I had in previous classes,” she said. “I also learned more about how to connect and communicate with different people.”
Simpson said the internship also provided her with networking opportunities.
“It’s cool to be able to say that I can use Jane Raybould and the people on her campaigning team as references,” she said.
While Simpson is still unsure of where she will steer her political career, she said this internship lifted the veil covering intricate details of the political world.
“This experience has shown me how much energy you need to be in a job like this,” Simpson said.
Simpson is planning to take another unpaid internship for Raybould’s campaign again sometime during the fall semester.
Although Simpson found her unpaid internship in her advisor’s office, former global studies advisor Emira Ibrahimpasic generally recommends paid internships to students. The assistant professor of practice still recognizes the benefits of unpaid internships, however.
“You still get paid, just in experience instead of money,” she said.
The ethics of unpaid internships have been debated over the years.
To Ibrahimpasic, the ethics of unpaid internships is a complex issue.
“I don’t think that unpaid internships are either ethical or unethical,” she said. “To me, it’s not a black or white issue.”
Kris Scanlon, a career development specialist for the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, does not generally encourage students to go for unpaid internships over paid internships or vice versa. Instead, she offers advice.
“I advise students to look at the pros and cons of both unpaid and paid internships, as well as their financial situation,” she said.
Similar to Ibrahimpasic, Scanlon contends that the ethics of unpaid internships is a convoluted topic.
“I believe it depends more on the nature of the internship and the company,” she said. “I think it’s more ethical for nonprofit organizations than for-profits.”
Claire Magsamen, a broadcasting and sports media and communication junior, chose experience over a paycheck when she accepted an unpaid internship at the radio broadcast company Entercom Communications in Kansas City over the summer.
Entercom is in charge of a variety of radio stations all throughout Kansas City, Mo.
Magsamen worked closely with 106.5 The Wolf, a Kansas City country station. She helped in promotion, such as assisting with social media and ticket giveaways.
She said she helped run the station’s Facebook page, and promoted the station’s events, like the Barktoberfest, a pet and music festival held exclusively in Kansas City.
Magsamen also had the opportunity to work country megastar Dierks Bentley’s album signing.
“I helped set up for the album signing and got to meet Dierks Bentley afterwards,” she said. “He is one the nicest guys I’ve ever met and it was an overall awesome experience.”
Throughout the course of the internship, Magsamen never hesitated to do her work.
“Even though it was an unpaid internship, I still had a lot of fun doing it,” Magsamen said. “It never really seemed like work.”
Like Simpson and Magsamen, one UNL alum believes her unpaid internship provided her with professional advantages, some of which ultimately helped her land her current career.
Thuy-Dung Tran interned abroad at Senshu University in Japan for four months, where she helped teach English to Japanese students.
She said she worked in the English department, where there was an oral communications class that she assisted with. She said she helped kids with homework and communicated with them.
UNL paid the travel expenses and housing for the internship, but Tran said students were encouraged to bring an estimated amount of $3,500.
“Essentially, it was cheaper being in Japan than here in America,” she said.
Tran graduated this past May with a degree in interior design, along with minors in global studies and business. She now works as an interior designer at Perkins+Will, an internationally known architecture and design firm based in Chicago.
Through her internship abroad, Tran says she gained a well-rounded cultural experience.
“The culture in Japan is drastically different from the culture here in America,” she said. “It was something that I never experienced before.”
Although her internship’s focus was on teaching the students, Tran said she learned from them as well.
“It was really cool that I got to share American culture with them and that I got to learn more about Japanese culture from them,” she said.
Tran says her internship and the experiences she gained help her in her current career.
“As a designer, especially one working for a global company, you have to understand cultural differences and what clients with different cultures would need for their space,” she said.
Tran recommends students who are looking for internships should not shy away from looking into unpaid ones.
“Although you aren’t getting paid, there is so much experience and skills to be gained from it,” she said. “Experience and skills are things that you can’t place a value on.”
This article was originally published in the September 2018 edition of The DN.