KACIF Fund Helps Students Alleviate Financial Burdens of Unpaid Internships

Applications for summer internships are accepted through April 30.

April 5, 2024

People mingling in front of the U.S. Capitol

Getting an internship in the government, education or nonprofit sectors are big draws for GW students. (File photo by Harrison Jones)

George Washington University sophomore Julia Chow, a political science major from Boston, had long been an admirer of GW alumna and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), M.A. ’92, HON ’17.

So much so that Chow found herself perusing internship opportunities on the senator’s website, hoping to both get her foot in the door and work for someone who has served as a source of inspiration. Getting that kind of opportunity on Capitol Hill was a big reason she—and so many others—choose GW.

Chow found what she was looking for, as there was an open position in Duckworth’s office that would include researching for memos, booking White House and Capitol tours and even giving some herself. It seemed like an ideal fit.

The only issue—a big one, at that—was that it was unpaid.

All that work without income was a glaring con, especially with the expenses that come with living in the heart of D.C.

Fortunately, Chow found an alternative through the GW where she could alleviate that gaping financial burden and accept an internship for a woman she’d long looked up to.

Chow applied for and was granted a stipend of the Knowledge in Action Career Internship Fund (KACIF), which the GW Career Services Council established in 2013 through alumni and parent donations to reduce financial challenges associated with pursuing high-quality, necessarily unpaid internships that may fit into a GW students’ career ambitions and/or enhance their academic programming.

Recipients such as Chow are paid a lump sum shortly after being accepted to the program, with the idea that the money upfront can provide a financial foundation for the duration of the unpaid internship.

“I’m really grateful for being able to earn this fund,” Chow said. “It really is so helpful, and this opportunity really helped me feel like I’m not working for free.” 

To maximize the number of students who receive funding, which is typically about 100 per year, grants for internships in D.C. and other domestic locations typically range from $750 to $1,500, while grants for international internships typically range from $2,000 to $3,000.

Necessarily unpaid internships are defined as those that genuinely lack the financial resources to pay salaries or wages to their interns. Kelly Charwat, the program associate for interdisciplinary and strategic career initiatives at the Center for Career Services, said that many of the those fall in the government, education and nonprofit sectors.

Noting the university’s proximity in Washington, D.C., as a huge factor to why young people such as Chow enroll in the institution, Charwat said this fund is a way for students to pursue all the desired opportunities and positions within the sectors of the work the nation’s capital region is most well-known and coveted.

Charwat also noted that the KACIF opportunity allows students to completely focus on the internship without having to split focus with a part-time position taken to pay off expenses. 

“When you’re dealing with the high cost of living and inflation and everything we’re dealing with right now, the internship seems so great, but it’s unpaid,” Charwat said.

The KACIF program’s mission is to reduce inequities caused by unpaid internships. The National Association of Colleges and Employers notes that internships are one of the main recruiting tools employers use to find recent graduates, but the current divide of paid and unpaid internships is leading to disparate impact on student outcomes post-graduation. The GW Center for Career Services uses the KACIF program to address such inequities and enhance opportunities for students.

“Having the ability to go for your dream internship and offset the costs a little bit is huge for us,” Charwat said.

Chow, for instance, has gained invaluable experience seeing how policymaking and working on behalf of constituents gets done firsthand.

“I’ve done a lot of grassroots campaigning, so I would help politicians get elected but never actually got to experience sort of the other side of that and seeing what goes into creating the policies they promised,” Chow said. “It’s all just been so interesting, and I feel like I’m helping constituents get their voice heard.”

The same gratitude goes for GW alumnus and School of Medicine and Health Sciences student Arthur Drouaud, B.S. ’22, who thanks to the KACIF fund was able to take a position as a research intern at the National Orthopedic Hospital in Dublin.

“The KACIF scholarship was extremely helpful for me and removed the financial burden of my travel and living expenses, allowing me to make the most of my summer internship,” Drouaud said. “Not only could I dedicate my time and energy in immersing myself in the summer project, but also help build meaningful connections with mentors in Ireland.”

Undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled full-time or part-time at the university are eligible to apply. Graduate students enrolled in the first semester of their degree program may apply for subsequent semesters. For example, a graduate student who begins in the fall can apply for spring funding. First-year undergraduate students are eligible to apply for funding for the summer after their first academic year of study.

Applicants must demonstrate that they will work a minimum of 160 hours at the internship, in addition to proving that their internship is in fact necessarily unpaid. Applications for summer internships opened on April 1 and will close on April 30.