Caroline Bicks, Stephen E. King Chair in Literature, and Kathyrn Swacha, assistant professor of English, started a new internship fellowship program designed to offer students funding to pursue unpaid internships. Five students are currently recipients of the donor-funded Stephen E. King Chair Internship Fellowship, which pays students between $1,500 and $2,500 depending on weekly hourly commitments for intern positions that would otherwise be unpaid.
The King Chair Internship Fellowship addresses inequities in unpaid internships, which can reinforce social disparities by financially marginalizing students from participating. The program gives student interns the chance to gain work experience in their prospective professions and give back to organizations doing important social justice and community work.
Concurrently with their internship, fellowship recipients take an English course with Swacha, Field Experience in Professional Writing, which introduces students to effective professional writing strategies. It provides students opportunities to workshop their internship writing with their peers, helping them make connections between their internship work and their larger studies, and mentoring them about how to leverage their internship toward future employment or graduate school.
Alex Fountain, a secondary education and English double major from Liberty, Maine, is spending her semester interning at the Bangor Humane Society, where she does a variety of tasks, from administrative work, to working directly with animals and writing animal personality bios for adoption, as well as sharing pet adoption success stories.
“Without the help of the fellowship, I don’t think I would have known what vast opportunities there are available to me, especially in the world of writing. Being able to work with such an amazing organization, and being able to enhance my writing skills, while also being supported by the fellowship, is an amazing opportunity,” Fountain says.
Chloe Shields, an elementary education major, is working with Welcome To Housing Home Goods Bank, a nonprofit furniture bank that aims to “help people in need succeed,” by providing household essentials to individuals who are transitioning into permanent housing. As a professional writing intern with Welcome to Housing, Shields is editing a proposal for the Maine Association of Realtors to expand the mission of furniture banks across the state, particularly into currently underserved, rural areas.
“The opportunity presented through the Stephen E. King Chair Internship Fellowship to contribute to such a worthwhile mission, while also enhancing my own professional skills, has been profound,” Shields says.
“The impact that doing an internship can have on students’ future success really cannot be overstated. For many of these students, completing an internship, receiving the King Fellowship, and taking Field Experiences in Professional Writing becomes a turning point for their next steps post-graduation. I have had many students land well-paying jobs in sectors directly related to their internships, or tell me that their internship experience is what helped them to figure out what type of career path they wanted to pursue.”
Many of these students have excelled academically, but have not had many opportunities to apply their studies to work beyond the university, she adds. “The value of opening up such opportunities for students who might not otherwise be able to pursue an internship is just incredible, and truly sets us apart from other peer institutions,” Swacha says.
Stephen E. King Chair Internship Fellowships are supported through the Stephen E. King Chair in Literature, established in the University of Maine Foundation with a gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation in honor of the UMaine alumnus’ substantial body of work and his creative impact. Its goal is to advance excellence in the creation, study and appreciation of literature and the humanities.
In addition to recruiting and retaining a top scholar, the endowed fund supports the creation of innovative learning opportunities for students and activities that advance creative writing, literature and the humanities on campus and in the community. Shakespeare scholar Caroline Bicks was named to the inaugural King Chair in 2017.