By Eric Johnson
Office of Scholarships and Student Aid

Destiny Planter '16 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Eric Johnson

Destiny Planter ’16 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Eric Johnson

Before this summer, Destiny Planter ’16 had never lived in a big city. But as she sat down to a breakfast meeting in downtown Washington, D.C., in July, she had all the confidence of a capital-city powerbroker.

“I’m worn out, but I survived it!” she said, settling into a booth. “Now I know I can do this.”

With the help of a summer internship grant offered through UNC’s Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, Destiny was able to spend six weeks interning in the Washington office of DLA Piper, a global law firm with operations in more than 30 countries. The $2,000 UNC grant gave Destiny the chance to navigate the city, meet many of the firm’s senior partners and associates, and pick up a wealth of experience in corporate law and regulatory issues.

“It’s been great getting exposure to so many parts of the legal world,” Destiny said, detailing some of the projects she tackled during the summer. “My favorite part is knowing that I managed to earn the trust of so many attorneys.”

Natalie Charamut '18 at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Photo by Eric Johnson

Natalie Charamut ’18 at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Photo by Eric Johnson

A few blocks away, Natalie Charamut ’18 used her donor-funded internship grant to support a summer at the National Archives. A public policy major with a special love for the Supreme Court, Natalie was steered toward the internship after meeting UNC alum Sam Anthony ’91, who serves as special assistant to the archivist in Washington.

“I met Sam at a reception through the General Alumni Association, and he encouraged me to apply,” Natalie said. She took a position in the education division, helping coordinate school visits, design teacher workshops and organize special events geared toward students.

She also had the chance to explore the sprawling Archives operation, including the daily information requests from Congress. “Basically, we’re like their filing cabinet,” Natalie said. “We keep everything organized and make sure it can be sent over right away when it’s needed.”

These hands-on experiences are becoming increasingly important for undergraduates preparing for a competitive job market. A wealth of research shows that students with internships fare better in initial hiring and report greater job satisfaction throughout their careers. In a series of focus groups across North Carolina earlier this year, employers in all industries strongly backed the need for more internship opportunities.

“Every single focus group we had, we heard about the need for internships,” said Kate Henz, UNC system associate vice president for academic policy, planning and analysis. “They really would love to see more graduates with internships.”

For students on financial aid, those summer opportunities can prove challenging. Many internships are unpaid, and even those that offer a modest hourly wage can be out of reach for students who can’t afford the up-front cost of relocating for the summer.

“It’s really expensive to live in D.C.,” said Natalie, who shared a house with several other interns during her time at the National Archives. “I didn’t realize how good we have it in North Carolina in terms of the cost of living.”

Both Natalie and Destiny were able to live and work in Washington thanks to UNC’s internship grants, which are now in their second year. The donor-supported program is open to any student with financial need, and it has already helped more than 60 summer interns gain invaluable work experience.

Students have to seek out the internships on their own, and the application process is highly competitive. Grant applicants have to show that the internship relates to their academic and career goals, and they have to submit a budget estimate for the summer. At the end of the internship, each grant recipient writes a detailed reflection to help guide future interns. They also serve as mentors to the next class of recipients.

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and Damien Walker '16

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and Damian Walker ’18

“The grant made it possible for me to live and work in Raleigh, N.C.,” said Damian Walker ’18, a political science major who spent the summer in the North Carolina Governor’s Office. “I’ve really been able to see what the political process looks like from the ground level.” Damian, a Carolina Covenant Scholar from Charlotte, has manned the phones in the Constituent Affairs office, answered letters sent to Gov. Pat McCrory, and attended public events with the governor and state cabinet officials. By the end of the summer, he was also appointed to the North Carolina Internship Council, which helps state government recruit and supervise interns.

Opening up that kind of direct experience to all students, regardless of their financial background, is in keeping with UNC’s commitment to access. As internships become a crucial part of a college education, the University is working to extend those opportunities through private support. Alumni have the chance to participate both through direct gifts, helping to fund internship grants for needy students and by offering connections to companies and organizations that can provide valuable real-world experience for students.

“We’ve always said that every Carolina student, no matter their background, should have the same quality of experience as their peers,” said Shirley Ort, director of Scholarships and Student Aid. “Support for summer internships has become an important piece of that mission.”

Meet the lead donor: Michael S. Brown (parent 2015)

Internship Program ABC's

  • Students must find their own internships. University Career Services can help students  conduct a search, and this funding allows them to dream big without being limited by financial constraints.
  • Students must present their internship plans to an internship board for approval. Not all internships are created equal, and the board will ensure that the experiences are appropriately structured and that students are accountable for the work they promise to do.
  • Students must complete professional development training to prepare them to be successful and productive from day one.
  • Students must produce a post-internship writing assignment to digest the lessons learned during the experience and to share them with future interns.
  • Students must become mentors to the next summer’s group of interns.
UNC parent Mike Brown of Brookhaven, Ga., couldn’t agree more. His annual gifts have supported these students and many more, nearly 60, since the program’s inception in 2014. “It’s difficult to quantify the added value of quality summer experiences to a student’s overall education and marketability,” Brown said. “Employers are looking for practical experience; internships provide that and also give students real insight into their career aspirations.”

When considering ways his family could support his daughter’s alma mater, Brown said that the gift of opportunity was at the top of his list. “Every student deserves a chance to succeed and to participate fully in professional development opportunities,” he said. “My hope is that no student should decline an internship opportunity because they can’t afford to live in its location. Students earn these internships competitively, just as they earn admission to Carolina, and they shouldn’t lose out because of financial constraints.”

Going forward, Brown said he would like to see many more UNC alumni, parents and friends become involved in this effort through gifts to support students, through their companies or employers to expand internship opportunities to students, and through mentoring and networking to connect more students with internship possibilities.

To learn more about supporting student internship opportunities or giving to scholarships, please contact Terri Hegeman, director of development for scholarships, student aid and access at (919) 962-4385 or terri_hegeman@unc.edu.