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Do I accept a Greenpeace Internship? But first, $4000 More Student Debt!
February 14, 2009 7:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm an Environmental Policy & Planning Major (3rd year). I've been applying to internships over the past weeks for Spring and Summer positions. Great news: I've already been accepted to Greenpeace's "Organizing Term" and I have two other positions I will soon hear a yes/no on for Spring. Bad News: The Greenpeace Organizing Term program will cost me $4000. The program itself is an intensive mix of activities, virtually on a full-time basis (for 2 months of summer, out of 3), including classroom trainings, expeditions to other states (as well as another country for meeting with other international activists), media trainings, and some readings. All of it is included with the cost (including flight/transport/food for a week). What to do? (More in the extended explanation):

My Dilemma: I want to be a part of this program for several reasons. But the most salient ones are: (1) This seems like it would be excellent experience, whether I choose to go on a career of political advocacy or otherwise -- environmental consulting, or non-profit office-type work, or government agency type work, or what have you. I know that my public communication skills will undoubtedly improve through the program. By undertaking the program itself, it shows initiative and passion. The not only improves my skillset in a personal sense, but it enhances my job prospects post-graduation too. Moreoever, while only 15 people are accepted for the program each summer, "hundreds" (I'm told) have applied. Might there be a prestige factor that helps my future prospects? Keep in mind, I plan on relying on internships more than most because my GPA is relatively mediocre (I'm working hard to change that though) (2) But also importantly is that I know I'll learn a lot from the experience, and will therefore very likely enjoy it, in general. And, if I find that I don't like it, I will have learned something very useful about myself also, and plan for my future accordingly! (3) Frankly, I have a lot of passion for environmental protection, especially the more I've study it. My generation and even progressively more so, future generations, will have to work harder to protect what is here for us.

On the other hand, I don't want to be a part of the program for the following reason: I don't have the money. Nor do my parents. Trust me, I've pleaded. Moreover, I have almost nothing to my name (despite that I am a sprendthrift compared with most of my peers.) I've worked part-time for part of my college experience. My student debt scares me but my parents have pledged do cut it down dramatically from where it will stand, so I am hopeful. So they're doing all they reasonably can already. Nor can extended family help, as far as I'm aware, but I plan to find out anyway for certain, through 'fundraising' that Greenpeace suggests financially-strapped acceptees to undertake. I've never independently fundraised before, but it'll be a learning opportunity. I'm hoping to scrounge $500 (with wide error margins) that way. Maybe I could do more, who knows -- but my relatives are middle class, and they're getting hit like everybody is now. I can also work part-time from March-May, so that'll net me $1000 more. Beyond that, I've been looking for scholarships through my University and otherwise. The program doesn't qualify for what's available, and there isn't much available right now anyway (says my University Counselor). So there is a big gap. I'm still exploring options, but that leaves me at a shortfall.

So.

I thought some sager advice, over and above my parent's significant uneasiness about it, might be out there.

Which path do you suggest?
posted by Risiko to Work & Money (13 answers total)
 
I say go. To pay for it, look into people-to-people lending. Here are some sites:

Prosper
CapAlly
Lending Club
GreenNote

Since you're dealing with people who specifically want to invest in your life and/or projects, you can talk to them about repayment, as it would suit you and them, alike. This is preferable over getting a loan from a friend or family member, as that can always get yucky.

P.S. - Linked to a couple that are specifically about student loans. You may find that, since this is university-related, you can get a loan this way. Not sure. You'd find lenders who are interested in helping students.
posted by metalheart at 8:14 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and if you don't know of this website already... College Toolkit. I found a possibly relevant scholarship here.
posted by metalheart at 8:23 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


You should also check with your school to see if they can offer any support. Schools are aware that kids from lower class backgrounds often can't take advantage of unpaid (or even fee-charging) enrichment programs because they need to work over the summer.

The university I work at has a couple of scholarships that will allow students to undertake unpaid internships / training programs / projects during the summer.
posted by clerestory at 8:38 PM on February 14, 2009


OK, I'm going to try to not make this about my personal views on Greenpeace.

"Only 15% get accepted??" You paying THEM to do an internship?? If I didn't know GP was a semi-reputable organization, I would be telling you to run from this straight-up scam.

My next question would be, do you know EXACTLY what will be involved in these "expeditions to other states (as well as another country for meeting with other international activists)?" Because when i used to work in the Miracle Mile area of L.A., I used to walk huge trajectories across the sidewalk on my way to lunch, trying to avoid the college kids from greenpeace who were there EVERY GODDAMN DAY trying to hit me up for money. I don't know, maybe that's not what you'd be doing, maybe you're fine with that, but I wouldn't want to PAY someone to go try to make them more money by shaking down strangers who just want to go to lunch.

Also, I'm not in the field, but are 100% sure this is as great a resume thing as you think? Even its fans would i think agree that Greenpeace is on the more extreme side of the activist spectrum. How will that play when you're looking for a job in "political advocacy," where things tend to be done by cooperation and playing within the rules?

Look, I hate it when people try to talk others out of their dreams. If it's your dream to work for Greenpeace, and only Greenpeace, then get the money somehow and do it. But if your dream is to work for an environmental advocacy organization, there must be others who would love to have your volunteer help, without you paying them. Maybe even a smaller org or a law firm?
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:44 PM on February 14, 2009


(on re-read, "organizing term" sounds like you'd be the boss of the kids who hit people up for money. But still.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:45 PM on February 14, 2009


I highly doubt part of the program includes hitting people up for money. There's nothing on their website to suggest that, but then again, their website isn't an objective source.

Anyway, much more information can be had here (use the side links too): http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/getinvolved/greenpeace-organizing-term
posted by Risiko at 8:56 PM on February 14, 2009


My basic policy on all of these sorts of things is: it's not a job if you pay them money. Maybe it is the ridiculous resume-building opportunity that it seems to be, but I really don't think so. You're going to be $4k in the hole, with the name of a relatively extreme organization on your resume. Your name will also be on an FBI watch list--seriously.

I used to walk huge trajectories across the sidewalk on my way to lunch, trying to avoid the college kids from greenpeace who were there EVERY GODDAMN DAY trying to hit me up for money.

Those people usually aren't actually from Greenpeace. Once, when I was younger and stupider, one of them convinced me that it was a really easy job for reasonable money and that I should apply. So, I got an application, made a phonecall, and showed up at the appropriate office at the appropriate time.

Only then did I discover that it's a third-party canvassing company. Greenpeace (and PETA, and a number of other "grassroots" orgs) pay them to pay people to hang out on street corners bumming for change. It's really a racket, and I split as soon as I figured that out. Totally pissed off the dude doing the "group interview" as well.

At no point before getting to that office was it indicated to me that I wasn't dealing with Greenpeace directly.
posted by Netzapper at 8:56 PM on February 14, 2009


Dude...here are 3 things I can tell you:

1. Haters will always hate.
2. Scammers will always scam.
3. Check out this page from Greenpeace. Its a testimonial page with past participants first names, last names, year of term, and their respective colleges.

I don't want to do all the research for you...but a resourceful person may be able to find out email addresses, and ask these people for their REAL opinions of the program.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:28 PM on February 14, 2009


Look, I hate it when people try to talk others out of their dreams. If it's your dream to work for Greenpeace, and only Greenpeace, then get the money somehow and do it. But if your dream is to work for an environmental advocacy organization, there must be others who would love to have your volunteer help, without you paying them. Maybe even a smaller org or a law firm?

a resourceful person may be able to find out email addresses, and ask these people for their REAL opinions of the program.

These two pieces of advice are golden. Spending $4000 for an "internship" is like spending money to "study abroad" when the rigors or contents of the actual program, or its reputation, are unknowns. Ten to one, this is a vanity program for students who have the money. If your school says it doesn't qualify for aid, there's probably a good reason.

For a career in the environmental field, you would do well to find a smaller, local advocacy group or lawyer who needs you to volunteer, or who would be willing to pay you, even a nominal amount, for your time.
posted by vincele at 8:00 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The program itself is an intensive mix of activities, virtually on a full-time basis (for 2 months of summer, out of 3), including classroom trainings, expeditions to other states (as well as another country for meeting with other international activists), media trainings, and some readings.

According to this blog it mostly seems like listening to lectures and petitioning/phone-calling. I don't think you want to spend $4000 on that.
Be sure to read through all the entries in the link I posted.
posted by nikkorizz at 9:14 AM on February 15, 2009


When making your decision, I think the most important thing for you to consider is whether you are more interested in the learning-new-skills aspect, or whether it's the having-a-big-charity-name on the old CV.

When it comes to programs that give you intensive training, activities, trips and so on, it's far from unusual that charities would require payment. This is because few charities could afford to give intensive training, for free, to the thousands every year that would want it, especially when it's not part of their mandate. However, if the quality of the instruction is high then it certainly would give you an advantage over your peers with classroom-only experience. I'm not personally familiar with this particular program, that's just a general guideline.

If it's the big-name prestige that's more interesting to you, then you may be able to get that without paying for a training program. GP and many other enviro groups do have in-office volunteer opportunities/internships, or local activist groups through which you would likely get some training and experience (non-violent direct action, media, fundraising) for free. However the difference with office volunteering and internships is that as opposed to paid training programs, the charities are trying to maximize the investment they are making in recruiting/supervising/training the volunteer, and so are likely to
1- recruit, if possible, people with previous experience (meaning you may not get selected), and
2- recruit for positions that are low in responsibility (as volunteers most often have other commitments or leave as soon as they find paid employment), meaning you'd be more likely to find yourself stuffing envelopes than attending high-level conferences.

"Only 15% get accepted??"
OK, full disclosure: I'm currently working for Greenpeace in the UK (though answering this in a personal capacity!!), and have also worked with other big-name NGOs. It's quite common to see 250+ applications for low-level paid admin support type jobs in big charities, and at least dozens of applications for volunteer posts with significant time commitment requirements. Unfortunately for people trying to break in, it's very competitive. But, it's not impossible - I mention this only so that you can make the most informed decision.

Best of luck in whatever you choose!
posted by vodkaboots at 9:28 AM on February 15, 2009


What I hear from you is that the only downside you see is the money. Their idea that you do some creative fund-raising is a good one, and I could see that getting you the amount you need. The Habitat cross-country bike riders and the AIDS San Fran to LA bike riders all raise thousands of dollars. Applying for grants, throwing events, hitting up people for money, whatever they can give, are all useful skills in the nonprofit world. For example, could you get a business to donate something (a bike?) in exchange for you holding a very well publicized raffle?

whether I choose to go on a career of political advocacy or otherwise -- environmental consulting, or non-profit office-type work, or government agency type work, or what have you.

I'd get really clear about what this is and is not, because it's not as widely applicable as you think.

What it will be:
- it will probably be very incredibly inspirational;
- it may solidify your commitment to environmental change and potentially leave you feeling more radical (if you end up seeing and learning facts that others may not know);
- it will educate you in organizing and campaign techniques;
- it will be a great bonding experience with cool and interesting people, so to get the most out of it, go in planning to keep in touch with them later;
- you will get a little taste of direct action and organizing;
- it could be the teeniest foot in the door at Greenpeace if you hope to eventually work for them.

What it is not:
- real-world work experience in any way, organizing or otherwise (it sounds like you'll do at most 2-3 weeks of actual work, right? And since the time is so short, they'll likely have to hand to you all the preparation materials and all the answers to the questions and problems one would normally confront -- it does have value, the same way a science lab class has value, but it's not like it's your job; it's someone else's job to figure out how to make your time useful for their campaign)
- useful background for a wide range of environmental topics or anything that might impress government agencies or environmental consultants (you will learn how to mobilize citizens around an issue, but water engineers at a consulting company or government agency won't appreciate that)

That said, I work at a very moderate nonprofit that does some community organizing. We'd consider this a plus. If I were hiring you, I'd want to see some signs that you could handle real-world responsibility, since our work is so much less exciting than this program, and I'd want to make sure you wouldn't hate it and hop to something else once you realized that.

Two other options to consider: Green Corps and/or fellowships in political environments (eg: 1, 2).

Bottom line: I think it will be an amazing life-changing experience, and it will probably help you get entry-level organizing positions with environmental nonprofits, and I'd definitely do it if you've already been organizing protests in college and think you'll keep independently doing this going forward, but I wouldn't do it thinking it will have wide and long-lasting appeal as a resume item.
posted by salvia at 12:07 PM on February 15, 2009


To be more explicit about two points:
- government agencies are pretty conservative
- for maximum real-world experience and resume value, do the fundraising yourself ahead of time. Plus, debt will interfere with living a free-wheeling direct action lifestyle.
posted by salvia at 12:14 PM on February 15, 2009


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