Rutgers Editorial Summer Internships Provide Life-changing Experiences

Jonathan Scott Holloway is an American historian, academic administrator, and the 21st president of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Rising senior Tasawn Roberts, a political science ma-jor at Rutgers, worked this summer in his hometown at Newark Community Solutions, where he helped residents in difficult situations avoid or stop evictions. Don-te Hatcher, a psychology major from Plainfield, spent his summer in service to others as a substance abuse prevention intern in Camden. Ines Kenfack Donfack, an Irvington resident and biology major, interned at University Hospital’s surgery unit. And drawing upon her economics studies, Kristy Echie, a student at Rutgers–New Brunswick, served as a Fair Housing and Fair Lending intern at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition in Washington, D.C.

These students—and another 146 undergraduates along with them—were part of the second summer of Rutgers Scarlet Service, a new program founded on my belief that civic engagement should be a critical element of a college education. In our socially and politically fractured world, civic engagement presents a way to appreciate peo-ple and perspectives different from our own, a way to re-store civil discourse, and most certainly a means of serving the common good. Moreover, as I wrote in a 2021 essay for the New York Times, “We need to inspire people to an-swer the call to serve because in so doing they will discover ways to have their voices heard and their communities seen and respected.”

The program began in 2022, with undergraduate stu-dents from all our campuses—in Newark, New Brunswick, and Camden—invited to apply for the opportunity to work in summer internships at nonprofits, government agencies, and other public service-oriented organizations. A curricu-lar piece also enabled them to earn academic credits as well.

The first year we had 100 positions available, and nearly 600 applied. Those selected were able to contribute their talents to dozens of nonprofit organizations, such as Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick, Le Casa de Don Pedro in New-ark, and the Food Bank of South Jersey in Camden County. They took part in helping immigrants navigate the legal sys-tem, teaching sports to at-risk children, assisting legislators in serving their constituents, connecting individuals in need with community health and mental health resources, and promoting sustainability in local communities, among many other forms of civic engagement. And when they came back to school last fall, I heard our students describe their sum-mer internships as “life-changing” experiences.

Favour Ikedife, a Rutgers neuroscience major who interned at a dementia resource center in Union City in 2022, put it this way: “The internship definitely took me out of my comfort zone. It also made me more empathetic— and present.”

In year two of Rutgers Scarlet Service, we expanded to in-clude a cohort serving in Washington, D.C., which was near to my heart since I had been an intern there myself many years ago. These internships included several Congressional offices as well as agencies such as the Trust for the National Mall, the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Humanities Alliance.

All Rutgers Scarlet Service interns receive stipends fully funded by the university, with much help from very gener-ous donors eager to support the mission of these experienc-es. In D.C., we also provide housing for the students taking part. This underwriting makes the internships accessible to all students, especially for those who need to earn money over the summer in order to pay their bills.

Studies show that internships do more than fill a summer vacation: they lead to higher graduation rates, higher levels of satisfaction, and career success. When those internships expose students to people and communities different from themselves, I believe it also has a powerful impact on them not only as scholars but also as citizens. A life-changing impact.