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Giving slows as SMPA career network tops 70 percent of fundraising goal

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The Career Access Network, which provides funding for SMPA seniors and graduate students taking unpaid internships, has raised more than 70 percent of its $250,000 fundraising goal.

The School of Media and Public Affairs is on track to reach its fundraising goal for the Career Access Network ahead of schedule, despite fewer donations in the last year, the school’s director said.

The network, which provides funding for SMPA seniors and graduate students taking low-paid or unpaid internships, has raised more than 70 percent of its $250,000 goal, putting the school on track to complete the fundraising campaign well before its original 2020 target, SMPA Director Frank Sesno said.

Sesno credited the rapid pace of donations to a fundraising blitz around the school’s 25th anniversary last year. During different Silver Anniversary events, like an alumni gala, film screenings and a discussion with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, school officials encouraged donations to SMPA CAN, helping to quickly rack up donations.

“We are already more than 70 percent of the way towards our goal for the Career Access Network and are well ahead of schedule, thanks in large part to our Silver Anniversary,” Sesno said in an email.

But in the last year, the effort has slowed. SMPA has so far raised $179,896 for the network, but less than $20,000 has come in since last June, according to the fundraising website.

In its first year, SMPA raised about $160,000 for the program and hosted five fundraising events to familiarize alumni with the initiative in hopes that they would continue to give.

The program, launched in September 2015, supports a mentorship program and funds networking events, in addition to helping with low-paid and unpaid internships.

“This and other fundraising will help programs like our new online platform, which will help students connect, engage and learn from their peers and an amazing network of alumni and distinguished friends of the school,” Sesno said.

University spokesman Jason Shevrin said SMPA hopes to expand the peer-alumni mentorship program that was piloted last year and consisted of 13 mentors and mentees. He said the school will also begin using PeopleGrove, an online networking community, this summer to connect students and mentors remotely.

Students are eligible to receive funding through SMPA CAN every spring ranging from $1,000 to $3,000. Nine applicants are chosen out of three different award pools for financial support for a summer internship.

The program awarded $15,000 in total to six students this summer for unpaid internships, Shevrin said.

Faculty said the project addresses concerns that both students and administrators have about the importance of internships for journalism students – they are vital for career prospects, but often unpaid.

“We put a lot of stock in SMPA in working at internships,” Jason Osder, an assistant professor of media and public affairs, said. “Some are paid and some are not, so therein is an issue of opportunity and privilege.”

He said some students are able to afford unpaid internships throughout the course of their education, while others face financial obstacles, especially if they’re also working to finance their degree. The Center for Career Services started the University-wide Knowledge in Action Career and Internship Fund in 2013 to make uncompensated internships more affordable, but schools like SMPA have launched their own school-specific programs.

“If it’s the case that people with more means can do more internships and we’re not doing something about it, then we as an educational institution are actually reinforcing a system of unequal access and privilege,” Osder said.

Currently only seniors and graduate students are eligible to receive funding through CAN.

“I think that the need for those students to have the best internships and the best opportunities is the greatest because they’re launching their careers,” Osder said. “That happens mostly for seniors and graduates students and then for juniors.”

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