AU alumnus offers advice to struggling students and financial support to interns
Pay Our Interns is providing funds to students economically impacted by the pandemic
An AU alumnus, who co-founded the nonprofit, Pay Our Interns (POI), is helping young people and interns cope with financial hardships and canceled career opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic.
Carlos Mark Vera’s nonprofit partnered with software company Symba, to develop an initiative to encourage organizations to move their internships online instead of canceling them entirely. POI has hosted webinars and organized meetings with organizations to help preserve these internship opportunities.
Pay Our Interns, which primarily focuses on congressional internships, pushed the Committee on House Administration to alter telework rules that effectively prohibited virtual internship opportunities. The committee subsequently released new guidelines stating that a paid intern can access the virtual system remotely.
“That would have been a big blow if they canceled that,” Vera said. “We’re talking about thousands of opportunities.”
POI also created a relief fund called the Intern Opportunity Fund, which provides direct cash to students who were financially impacted by the pandemic. Vera said that POI is providing recipients with relief packages ranging from $150 to $1,500.
Between 20 and 30 students will be chosen out of thousands of applicants, according to Vera, and they will be announced on a rolling basis in the coming weeks.
Gabrielle Kalisz, a rising senior at AU majoring in international relations with a concentration in global health care policy, received a cash prize.
Kalisz’s summer internship with Todd Strategy, a healthcare consulting firm, was moved online and her hours were reduced. This loss of income, combined with a costly return home from her study abroad in Spain, brought on financial struggles for Kalisz.
“I saw the link for this fund and it was almost as if my prayers had been answered,” Kalisz said. “It gets to a point where you have to make a decision between your career prospects or your financial security right now.”
Vera said POI selects fund recipients by prioritizing those with immediate needs. For example, those who cannot afford their rent or groceries for June would be prioritized over those who have the same needs in July.
“Carlos [Vera] and Pay Our Interns is the reason I’ll be able to eat this month,” said Kalisz.
On May 11, Vera published “More Than a Degree: Failing Forward” on Medium. In this piece, which quickly went viral, Vera wrote about dropping out of American University as a first-generation college student, toxic social media culture, unachievable standards of perfection and the merits of failure.
Vera said that he hopes sharing his story can destigmatize failure and help other people share their stories too, and he said 30 people have messaged him about going through similar struggles.
Vera returned to AU for the 2019-2020 school year to finish his studies and graduated in May.
“We should be more open about our failures,” Vera said. “Never see failure as a bad thing. Ultimately, understand that life is not linear.”