Undergraduate Academic Affairs

January 9, 2017

Innovative paid internship allows student to gain hands-on work experience

Hyein Park

For students at the University of Washington, internships are key to crossing the gap between college and the world of work. However, financial need is a major setback that prevents many students from doing unpaid internships.

This is the situation that faced Ruby Vigo. A student from the School of Social Work, Ruby’s longstanding desire to help others turned into a passion for helping youth and an interest in criminal justice.  Ruby knew an internship in a nonprofit would help her gain valuable professional experience and help shape her future plans. Nonprofits, however, typically can’t pay their interns, and Ruby didn’t have the time or financial ability for a volunteer internship.

Between the hours spent at school and a job waitressing at a restaurant five days out of the week, Ruby often had to choose between school and her job. Her friends would organize group study sessions that she would miss. In order to attend mandatory class meetings, she would call into work to ask for some hours off. The restaurant would not budge on her work hours. Ruby could not find the time to explore her career options in social work and she found herself struggling to keep up with both work and school. But her situation changed when she found out about the UW’s new paid community-based internships.

In spring of 2016, the University of Washington funded 30 paid internships for students to gain work experience in nonprofits. Ruby was excited to be accepted as one of the interns and was matched with Treehouse, a nonprofit specializing in foster youth care. This opportunity enabled her to leave her part-time job as a waitress to focus on her future.

“It was so nice because the hours I would have spent waitressing, I was able to spend on schoolwork and my internship.” With more time to study for her exams, Ruby’s grades improved and her stress level dropped. Her time with Treehouse reaffirmed her interest in nonprofits and nurtured her confidence in the professional work place.

At Treehouse, Ruby conducted outreach to clients, keeping clientele well-informed about the organization’s programs. At first she felt a little shy interacting with her co-workers and making phone calls to clients, social workers and caregivers. However, over the two quarters of the internship, Ruby’s confidence grew as she took on different tasks, from translating documents into Spanish to making phone calls and creating information pamphlets. She now feels confident asking questions to her co-workers and feels like a valued part of the Treehouse staff. “I love Treehouse and the work environment here,” she says, “I’ve grown so much by applying my skills to new tasks, like translating documents.”

The internship has only made Ruby’s passion for nonprofit work grow stronger. Having graduated this past spring, Ruby now works full-time at Washington CAN!, a nonprofit specializing in political advocacy. She’s excited to see what else there is to discover in the world of community-based work.

Interested in learning more about the UW’s community-based internships? Contact the Carlson Leadership & Public Service Center Director, Rachel Vaughn,  or 206-685-2705 or visit the website.