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New CAPE Award Makes Important but Low-Paying Internships Financially Feasible

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Soumaya Hassan, a Buffalo State College international relations major and rising senior, wanted to participate in the summer SUNY Washington Internship Program. There was one caveat: it is unpaid.

Then Hassan learned of a new program launched by the Career and Professional Education Center (CAPE)—the Bengal Internship Award—that could help her financially.

The Bengal Internship Award provides stipends of up to $2,000 for undergraduate or graduate students pursuing summer internships. The stipend covers living expenses such as housing, food, technology, and transportation for students working in an internship that is either unpaid or underpaid.

“Most of our students need to work to pay the bills,” said Lynn Rogers, CAPE’s assistant director for employer engagement. “We want to break down the barriers that keep students from participating in unpaid or underpaid internships. Women, minorities, and first-generation students are more likely to participate in this type of internship.”

Head shots of the four recipients

Clockwise from top left: 2022 Bengal Internship Award recipients Mimi Byrne, Christina Clarke, Daniela González-Pruitt, and Soumaya Hassan

Hassan is one of four internship award recipients who were selected this summer. The others are Mimi Byrne, who just earned her bachelor of science degree in biology and will begin the college’s graduate program in biology in the fall; Christina Clarke, a business administration major entering her senior year in the fall; and Daniela González-Pruitt, a graduate student in the Garman Art Conservation program.

“Most of the internships that Buffalo State students participate in are unpaid,” Rogers said. “Yet, they provide valuable experience.”

Hassan works as a research assistant for the Eurasia Center’s Uplifting Africa Program based in Washington, D.C., where she’s focusing on peace and conflict resolution issues across the globe. Her responsibilities include keeping up with political changes and current events in various African countries and posting that information to the website. 

“This helps inform policy leaders,” Hassan said. “So far it’s been very interesting.”

Meanwhile Clarke, who is interning in the Buffalo State Admissions Office, is helping counselors work with a cross section of prospective students—first-year, transfer, and international students. She’s using the internship as a complement to a job she held in the Admissions Office during the academic year. She said the internship provided the financial support she needed.

“I was sitting in my room thinking about this internship, and wondered, How am I going to pay for my summer housing?” she said. “And then I get this email about the Bengal Internship Award.”

After she graduates next May, Clarke said, she plans to pursue a master’s degree at Buffalo State in higher education and student affairs administration.

Fundraising for the internship began on the college’s Day of Giving in March, when CAPE raised $3,500 for the award. M&T Bank, a longtime partner of Buffalo State’s, then provided an additional $30,000, Rogers said. Through these gifts, CAPE can allocate up to $2,000 per student for a limited time. If sufficient funds can be raised, CAPE plans to expand the award to include fall and spring semesters. Fundraising for the award is ongoing.

To qualify, applicants must meet certain criteria, including being a returning student, creating a budget of projected living expenses, and writing a statement about how the internship meets their career goals.

“We want to break down the barriers that keep students from participating in unpaid or underpaid internships. Women, minorities, and first-generation students are more likely to participate in this type of internship.”

- Lynn Rogers, M.S., Assistant Director for Employer Engagement, Career and Professional Education Center

Byrne said her internship at the Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, New York, has expanded her understanding of her major and helped shape her career goals. 

Along with planting garden beds, helping identify and remove invasive plant species on the grounds, and working in the butterfly garden, Byrne has interacted with children visiting the center on field trips and summer camps.

“I’ve set up scavenger hunts for the kids and answered their questions,” she said. “It’s made me realize I may want to go into education when I’m older. First, I want to go into the research side of biology.”

Receiving the stipend, Byrne said, means she can afford to take an internship with a nonprofit organization that can pay only a small amount to interns.

“It’s been very nice,” she said.

González-Pruitt, who just completed her first year in the Garman Art Conservation Department’s painting specialty, said the Bengal award helped support her internship at the Dallas Museum of Art. Throughout the summer, she’s focused on the treatment, examination, and study of an enconchado panel painting, a rare genre of Spanish colonial art originating in Mexico that incorporates mother-of-pearl inlay.

“There are only a handful of these mesmerizing paintings,” she said. “We’re investigating the materials and techniques used by artists to create these works.”

González-Pruitt was able to secure funding from a few resources: the Art Conservation Department, the Graduate Student Association, and the Bengal internship.

“I’m very appreciative for all the financial help I received, especially with the high price of gas,” she said. “Dallas is an incredible city, but like most large cities, it can be quite costly to find housing for the summer. With these three generous scholarships and my stipend from the DMA, I will be able to complete my internship and enhance my experience by visiting multiple lab spaces in neighboring cities.”

Hassan, who lived in Africa until she was 15 years old, said her internship is especially meaningful. The interns got to choose the country they preferred to focus on, and she selected her native country of Djibouti.

“I’d like to go back to my country eventually and help with its politics,” Hassan said. “I’m thinking about becoming an ambassador or diplomat. Working in a think tank such as the Eurasia Center helps you see things differently and envision what you can do for a career.”

Clarke said she’s found her passion through her work with the campus Admissions Office. 

“There’s never been a day where I didn’t want to go to work,” she said. “I felt like I needed the internship to take this step forward.”


Rockwell Hall photo by Jesse Steffan-Colucci, college photographer.