The Washington Internship Program is known widely among Stockton students as a valuable, hands-on, experiential learning opportunity for all degree programs. Many students use their experience as interns in D.C. to build their professional network, improve their skills and abilities, and to secure a route for full-time employment after graduation. However, some students feel that their post-pandemic experiences have been lackluster.
The Washington Internship Program is facilitated through a partnership between Stockton University and The Washington Center. The Washington Center (TWC) is an organization that was developed to help young students grow into civically responsible leaders. Since The Washington Center was developed in 1975, over 60,000 students have participated in internship programs through the Center. Stockton students have been participating in the Washington Internship Program since the 1970s. However, recent Stockton interns have reported negative experiences with their internships in the nation’s capitol.
One of the major complaints discussed by interns was that of residential and housing facilities.
Lake Forte, a senior political science student and current intern with Generations for Peace, shared some of their residential experiences, and highlighted an influx of broken appliances, security risks, and a lack of space for existing furniture.
“The way they advertise their apartments, they look really nice, and they are nice, but when we got there, our dishwasher was broken, our stove was broken, our dryer was broken, our sink was broken,” said Forte.
“On the third day, the electronic lock on our door just stopped working. We got locked out, went down to the lobby, and then waited for maintenance for an hour,” Forte continued. “They told us they would temporarily charge it, and they advised us to not lock our door until they fix it permanently. When the maintenance guy came, we explained the issue, and he never replaced it, so we just had to keep it unlocked for the rest of our time there.”
“There are also no desks, there is just a dining room table, but we had to redecorate the house to be able to use all four chairs at the same time because of space restraints.”
Forte also reported, “some people have patios if they are upstairs, and one person had water pouring from their apartment onto the balcony below them. Turns out they had a boiler that broke and was just pouring hot water onto their floors and to the apartment below them. The people downstairs just had a giant water bubble in their ceiling waiting to pop.”
Justin Spusta, a senior criminal justice student and former BIED Society Intern, also reflected on their housing experiences.
“I remember, when we all moved in, there was a checklist of what was supposed to come with the room, for example, there was supposed to be a specific number of cutlery, bowls, and plates in each room.”
Spusta added, “almost every room did not have a complete set.”
“There are just a lot of small inconveniences that build up over time, and it feels that they are not upkeeping the residential facilities and not communicating from department to department in the way they should,” Forte stated.
Forte concluded, “at the end of the day, they want my money, and they want to make as much money as possible, so they put as little money back into the system and facilities as possible, and that’s something that a lot of people have come to understand.”
A common concern mirrored by multiple former interns is that of communication. Communication within TWC and with students was a major contributor to students’ poor experiences.
Spusta recalled, “it seems like there isn’t a lot of communication between the different levels of The Washington Center. For the most part, they’re not kept up to date on internships. A lot of things seem very outsourced, so the actual liaison advisors don’t have a lot of say in helping you.”
Forte added, “the communication of the Center is really strange, and they are really misleading about a lot of things, such as the housing amenities.”
One of the greatest complaints Spusta had was about the pre-acceptance advisors assigned to help students become matched with an organization.
“[My pre-acceptance advisor] was very non-communicative, didn’t answer emails, and brushed off a lot of our concerns.”
In addition to this, Spusta was unsatisfied with the way they were matched with their program. “My advisor gave her entire advising group all the same internship at the last minute,” Spusta explained. “She also lied to us; she told us that all the federal internship positions weren’t taking interns because of the pandemic, but that turned out to be not true.”
Spusta also had some concerns regarding the type of work they were completing for their internship. They added, “they advertise on the website that you could intern with the Federal Air Marshalls, or the FBI, but a lot of people I talked to said they had internships with smaller companies that no one had heard of, and they gave mostly busy-work.”
“For my internship, my job was to post six posts on LinkedIn, and do discussion boards on a two-page document each day.”
A more recent concern is that of COVID-19 and public health restrictions. Spusta, for example, interned during Fall 2020 when the COVID restrictions were high in D.C.
“We were peak-pandemic, so there were a lot of things we weren’t allowed to do. But, there was no way that the Center had interns meet through ice breakers or other social gatherings.” Spusta added, “there was no way to meet other interns in your building who weren’t part of your internship.”
Forte, who interned in Spring 2022, had a similar experience. “They had a lot of COVID restrictions, which I think is a good thing because I think it’s important that everyone is staying safe and following proper guidelines. But, for a while they didn’t allow you to have internal guests, so you could be in the hallways, central spaces, or elevators together, but not in your neighbor’s room. You can also not have external guests at all, even though some people have in-person internships and interact with the outside world every day.”
Accommodations were also of special concern to Forte. “Both myself and my advisor found it very strange that there was a lack of accommodation for mental and physical health issues experienced by me and a peer with respiratory issues that restricted their ability to stay in the building.” Forte continued, “they don’t seem to care for the health of their students and interns the way they should. Between not upkeeping residential facilities, and then not making accommodations for health issues, it just doesn’t feel right to me. The organization itself has some big flaws.”
Lastly, all interns with The Washington Center must participate in their career readiness program. This program requires interns to attend workshops, seminars, and events that cover resume and cover letter building, networking, and interviewing skills. However, these events were described as being “rudimentary” and would be better suited for underclassmen, Spusta explained.
“A lot of the presentations were just basic, like, ‘how to use LinkedIn’ and ‘don’t have a criminal record,’” Spusta stated. “Most of the seminars were not good. They were like, ‘how to get a career,’ or other bland career-advice seminars.”
Forte agreed that many of these workshops and events gave little value to current interns. “Interns current and past agree with me that the program is stupid. If you’ve gotten this far, you already know how to write a resume and a cover letter. Frankly, these things take up a lot of time that we could use to do other work.”
According to Forte, the required workshops are also at pre-scheduled times, and they often interfere with student’s work schedules. “[Interns] often have to miss sometimes an entire days’ work for a six-hour Zoom lecture. This is especially hard for people whose internships are paid because now they are not being paid for the work they’re missing.”
“Most of the internships are not paid, where they work for 40 hours a week, and then they have a three or four-hour class, on top of attending events and doing discussion posts for this career readiness program. It all seems a little bit silly to me, to take away from being in their actual work environment to do a blog post,” Forte concluded.
“Overall, I don’t think the quality of the internships, combined with the quality of the seminars, really made it worth it.”
What could the TWC do better?
According to Spusta, “now that the pandemic’s winding down, there are definitely ways to keep safety regulations, and not have it be like a prison.”
Forte added, “they should just be more transparent about their housing and limitations before interns arrive.”
Dr. Rodriguez responded after this article was published. Read his response here.