‘Ignored’ nonprofits rich with internship opportunities

Tapping into talent: Adelphi University Class of 2020 student Alexa Annese hustles through a paid internship at the American Tap Dance Foundation, made possible by the Jaggar Community Fellows Program.
By BERNADINE WALLER and THOMAS WARD JR. //

A fine arts major creates a wall-sized mural for a seriously ill child through nonprofit organization Splashes of Hope. A political science major works at a New York City nonprofit helping low-wage restaurant workers understand their legal rights. A nursing major disseminates information for the medical community through the nonprofit National Organization for Rare Disorders.

These are just three of the nearly 70 internships that our students worked at last summer – all life-changing, all paid and, notably, all within an employment sector often ignored by colleges and universities.

In our roles at Adelphi University’s Center for Career and Professional Development, we are continually challenged with this question: What are the careers of today and tomorrow? Current and prospective students and their families routinely pepper our team with this burning question.

One of our responses is that the nonprofit job market continues to blossom and is forecast for strong growth in the coming years. How do we know? The data.

Bernadine Waller: Jaggar edge.

In August 2018, according to data first developed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies Nonprofit Economic Data Project and later released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nonprofit sector represents America’s third-largest workforce, trailing only retail trade and manufacturing.

According to the report, nonprofits account for more than 90 percent of employment within our private higher-education institutions, 84 percent of all employment within private hospitals and 42 percent of all employment in America’s private social-assistance organizations.

Yet universities and colleges too often ignore this employment sector, working instead with for-profit companies, which are more typically part of the college “internship culture.”

In an effort to continuously prepare our students for careers and lives of purpose, we strategically launched an innovative internship program designed to assist important nonprofits – including the National Urban League, Northwell Health, New York Cares, Girls Inc., the United Way and the American Cancer Society – with their critical missions, while providing practical, hands-on learning experiences for our students.

Founded in 2010, the Jaggar Community Fellows Program matches students representing all majors with the opportunity to complete full-time, paid summer internships at nonprofits in the New York City and Long Island areas.

Over the course of the program’s 10 years, more than 500 students have interned at 100-plus area nonprofit organizations, representing healthcare, social services, education and the arts.

Thomas Ward: Community-based opportunity.

Through these hands-on experiences, our students emerge as well-trained, service-oriented, empathetic and workforce-ready candidates equipped with the skills and competencies necessary to address the significant challenges and opportunities facing our dynamic global economy.

They serve the public by working on cancer research; developing educational websites; helping to secure grant funding; promoting public health initiatives; empowering youth in underserved communities; promoting science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics initiatives for children; and serving the needs of food-insecure individuals.

Students benefit by exploring new career paths, expanding their professional networks, building their résumés with real-world learning experiences and giving back to their individual communities. Alumni of the Jaggar Community Fellows Program have started their own nonprofit organizations, gone into nonprofit leadership and entered law and dental schools, while others have pursued careers in teaching, business, information technology, social work, nursing and psychology.

Now is an optimal time for college students to begin engaging in community-based work, as many nonprofit leaders are transitioning into other industries or retirement. Interns from our initial cohort have climbed into the ranks of nonprofit management in hospitals and social services agencies, as well as in the for-profit arena.

What’s more, an impressive 80 percent of the graduate students who have participated in this program have secured employment within one month of graduation.

As our students equip themselves for purposeful, rewarding and productive careers, the entire community is enriched through this innovative and effective workforce-development model.

Thomas Ward Jr. is executive director and Bernadine Waller is associate director of experiential learning at Adelphi University’s Center for Career and Professional Development.