Tarleton Awards Over $22,000 to Help Students Pursue Unpaid Internships


STEPHENVILLE — Thanks to an innovative funding program, 35 Tarleton State University students in the College of Liberal and Fine Arts (COLFA) received financial assistance so they could take unpaid internships.

In its first full year, 69 students applied for RELIEF (Real-world Experiential Learning Internship Education Fund). The 35 students from seven COLFA departments qualified to receive $22,420 in assistance.

COLFA has over 1,800 undergraduate and graduate students in eight academic departments. Internships provide hands-on education through real world learning and are a vital part of the college curriculum. 

Dr. Cessna Winslow oversees the Communication Studies Department’s internship program. In 2021 she created RELIEF with contributions from private donors. The account grew substantially with an award from President James Hurley’s Presidential Fund for Excellence. The goal is that eventually RELIEF funding will be available to students across the university.

A student who takes an unpaid internship often sacrifices a paid job elsewhere and incurs related out-of-pocket expenses. RELIEF funding opens doors and may give more students a jump on their career path.

“It is exciting to know that students are relieved of some of the stress over the financial challenges that come with pursuing unpaid internships,” said Dr. Winslow, who teaches courses in public relations and social engagement. “Reading their thank you notes after receiving RELIEF funds adds to the joy of launching this program.” 

RELIEF recipients may receive up to $750 for a semester-long unpaid internship. Requirements include having a GPA of 2.5 or higher and financial need. After the internship ends, the students write a paper on how they used the money and what they learned.

RELIEF recipient Reagan Marriott interned at a nonprofit agency that provides life skills and job training classes. Her internship required her to travel to events and take pictures for the agency’s website and social media pages.

“Thankfully, I was equipped with a camera, but RELIEF funds allowed me to purchase some needed accessories,” she said. “Taking an unpaid internship was risky because it took me away from paid work. This money took away that fear and stress and allowed me to dedicate more time to the learning experience.” 

In addition to benefiting students, unpaid internships can boost local economies. Many small businesses and nonprofits cannot pay an intern because of tight operating budgets. But they still need help growing their organizations. 

“RELIEF is an essential initiative in our vision of supporting more and more student internship opportunities,” said Dr. Eric Morrow, Dean of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts. “Internships offer our students critical networking opportunities and skills that help them explore their potential and lead to exciting vocational paths. We are so thankful to the donors who understand the value of internships and who support RELIEF.” 

What’s needed is a perpetual funding source. A fundraiser will be held in April to champion RELIEF and celebrate Tarleton’s support of students in unpaid internships. 

More information is available at https://www.tarleton.edu/colfa/relief-grant/. Donations can be made at https://donate.tarleton.edu/o/tarleton-university/i/evergreen/s/college-of-liberal-fine-arts.

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