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In the spring of 2006, Poli Sci undergrad Ross Margulies was psyching up for another summer doing demolition for his father's real estate development company in Ohio. Like so many students, Margulies wanted to do an internship related to his field of study, but that would have meant losing three months of much-needed salary. Once again, it looked like the need for cash would win out over invaluable experience.
Instead, Margulies found out that he had won one of two Honourable Paul Charles Casey Internship Awards, which would give him $2,500 to pursue an internship at the Washington D.C. offices of FairVote, an electoral reform and pro-democracy group. Suddenly, instead of tearing down gyprock walls in Ohio, Margulies was building professional bridges at the epicenter of Western democracy.
"The internship was a remarkable experience for me," says Margulies. "I really found my calling that summer." So much so that he was offered a full-time job at FairVote upon his graduation one year later, winging down to Washington just days after his last exam this past May.
Although he is the poster boy for the Arts Internship Program, Margulies represents just one of the many success stories of an initiative that has been gaining momentum since its launch in 2004, when it sent 50 students to do internships in countries like Kenya, Ghana and India. Of that number, nine earned awards that helped trim some of the hefty price tag associated with traveling far from home and living in a foreign country. This past summer, some 200 students worked as interns in 36 countries. Of them, 39 earned awards to help cover their expenses.
Designed to give undergrads rare practical experience before they finish their studies, the program is also worth three credits following the completion of a major topical paper based upon their internship. "The awards are a crucial component of the internships," says Anne Turner, Internship Officer, "and we work closely with the Development Office to attract donors. But it's a fairly easy sell because most of the stories are so compelling. When you see a student return from the field as a completely changed person, it gives you goose bumps."
Most of the awards are funded by private donors like Kenneth MacKinnon (B.A. ‘80) and Laura Santini MacKinnon (Honours B.A. '82). In it's first year, the MacKinnon Initiative Award provided $2,500 worth of financial support to Sarah Fortin-Langelier, U3, BCom, Desautels Faculty of Management and Elizabeth Sully, U2, International Development Studies and Political Science during their irespective internships in Argentina and Kenya.
For Sully, who spent three months in Kenya with Liverpool VCT Care and Treatment helping design a study on disclosure of HIV status, the importance of the award goes well beyond the obvious. "Aside from the financial contribution, which is significant, it also shows that there are other people who have faith in what you are doing," she says. "That in itself is a motivating factor."
An investment banker who remembers his own trials and tribulations finding summer employment as a McGill undergrad, Kenneth MacKinnon says there was never any doubt how he and his wife wanted to give back to their alma mater. "This was the perfect way for us to give back to the institution that had prepared us so well for the real world," he says. "If you can make a difference in the lives of one or two students a year then that's important to me. Some people like buildings, I like to focus on the students."
In the end, the payback for investing in a student's internship and making a difference in their life ultimately benefits the world, as it gains another dedicated professional passionate about the issues that will shape our tomorrow. When asked what it's like for a young political junkie to be working on Capitol Hill just months after graduation, Margulies chuckles. "This is where I'm supposed to be right now. It's incredibly exciting."