Friday, April 24, 2009

The Summer Sun Under an Economic Cloud: AU Students Plan Summer During Financial Crisis

Comm 320 Contributing Writer
Washington-12 days remain in the spring semester of 2009 for American University students, eager to begin the long summer even as many scramble to adjust to financial hurdles caused by the economic downturn.

While the economy is certainly affecting all aspects of life, most students “don’t list it as a primary reason,” in planning their summers, AU School of International Service Academic Adviser Meagan McKee said. While students may be at least slightly insulated from the economy, “there’s obviously people in distress.”

McKee identified three basic summer options most AU students take. Generally speaking, students go abroad to study and intern, stay in D.C. to take classes at AU and intern in the city or go home to try their luck at local jobs and internships.
While initial patterns are emerging, a complete picture of what AU students are doing during this summer is yet to be formed. “We’re still in the summer hiring season,” the AU Career Center’s Director of Career Development, Susan Gordon said. With summer two weeks away, according to Gordon there are still students who have yet to begin looking for work.

What Gordon has seen in trends among summer prospects is not encouraging. “A student who wants to stay here this summer…probably shouldn’t be too fussy,” in finding jobs to financially support him or herself, Gordon said. According to Gordon, many employers of both paid jobs and unpaid internships are taking longer to get back to interested students. Part of the delay and difficulty in finding internships, even unpaid ones, is a lack of available supervision, as firms cut back on their labor force and reduce the number of supervisors available.

While the number of students interested in staying in D.C has not changed, Gordon has seen an increase in the number of students looking for paid positions to supplement unpaid internships. Part of that trend owes to a declining number of paid internships, with many prospective employers confident in the competitive nature of the positions changing internships from paid to unpaid.

Students are learning to adapt to the changing nature and availability of work. AU junior Von Gerik Allena decided to become an orientation leader, planning new student orientation for incoming freshman in order to earn the spending money he’d normally get from his parents. “I really need money this summer,” he said. “It’s so much harder now, I need money… My parents tend to just give me the money, but they just can’t afford to give me any spare cash right now.”

Before and after his duties as orientation leader, Allena will still have the dream summer experience. In May he’ll be touring Eastern Europe with the Chamber Choir, a trip mostly paid for by AU’s Department of Performing Arts with the rest coming out of pocket. While the choir will be performing a concert almost everyday, according to Allena some twenty-five percent of the trip will be free time.

It is for his plans after his duties as an orientation leader that Allena really needs the approximately $1,300 to $1,500 he hopes to make. Hoping to solidify the plans by the end of May, Allena and a friend intend to take a one week vacation of either Hawaii or a Caribbean island.

“It’s gonna be a very, very good summer,” Allena said. Despite the plans of beaches and adventure, Allena acknowledges that without the need for spending money he probably would have gone to the Philippines this summer, where his family is originally from, for a much longer time than his one week post-orientation vacation.

The economy has affected sophomore Colin White’s plans “a bit,” he said. Planning on going home to San Antonio, Texas and working at a local restaurant where he has worked before, White had hoped to stay in D.C this summer. White had looked for employment in the D.C. area to sustain him while he took summer classes and saved up for study abroad in the fall, but the jobs weren’t to be had. According to White, his parents would probably have paid for his stay in D.C. were it not for the current economic situation. At the very least, White believes he would have been able to find work in the area to pay for his stay himself.

Courtney Klamar, a junior, counts herself lucky, going home to Ohio where she will spend a big part of her summer working at a The Beaver Camp, a church summer program for third, fourth and fifth graders. The rest of her summer will be consumed by vacationing in Michigan as well as two conferences she will be attending, one for the AU Residence Hall Association on campus at the end of May and the other at a conference of the United Church of Christ for which she is a senate delegate.

“I’m lucky…I’m not needing to find a new job,” Klamar said. Even so, Klamar has seen the effects of the economy, going to the Beaver Camp and the conferences without several friends who needed to commit to their jobs full time. Luckily for Klamar, she has money saved up and lives with her parents, the conferences are paid for.

If he wants to stay in D.C., junior Jonathan Hultine will need a paid job to supplement any internship he might get. Were it not for the state of the economy, there would be “certainly a lot less pressure to do so,” he said. If he can’t find such work, Hultine regrets that he’ll be forced to return home to Miami, Florida to find a paid position.

Of course, not everyone has had to adapt. “My plans have not been affected by the economy,” sophomore Jon Darosa said.

Darosa is considering an unpaid internship with the New York City office of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

With disposable income as a dependent to his parents, Darosa considers himself fortunate. Most of his college tuition is paid by scholarship and the rest by his parents. If he takes a paying job to supplement the internship, that income will be entirely spending money.

“Most students our age just kind of you know, go home to work anyway,” he said. According to Darosa, the economy has little impact on most college students until it’s time to get “real jobs.”

Real jobs or only fake internships, there is little denying the trend at hand. With unemployment at 8.1 percent, a survey by found that 73 percent of employers anticipate more summer applicants this year than last and 23 percent will not be able to hire as many as they have in the past. The summertime blues indeed.

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