Classes, studying, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs are all in a day’s work for a college student. And if you’re a typical UCLA student, you also spend your summers participating in an internship that will, hopefully, assist you in reaching your career goal. It’s a lot to handle ― especially if the internship you’re working for can’t afford to pay you.

This past summer, however, the burden of working at an unpaid summer internship eased a bit for a few deserving students. Through the Gold Shield/IAC Ethnic Studies Summer Internships program ― a partnership between the UCLA Institute of American Cultures, or IAC, and Gold Shield, Alumnae of UCLA ― four students received $5,000 each to gain knowledge and experience working for nonprofit organizations that otherwise would not have been able to provide monetary compensation.

Each of the four students was selected by one of the ethnic studies centers in the IAC ― the American Indian Studies Center, the Asian American Studies Center, the Chicano Studies Research Center and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.

“Like scholarships, paid internships help students financially, but provide much more ― a chance to work with a community-based organization, to develop a range of skills and to build networks,” said David Yoo, vice provost of the IAC. “The paid internships are important also because many internships are unpaid and disadvantage students who need to work. Students often have amazing, even transformative, experiences that help them think through who they are in the world and how they can make a difference.”

The 2023 summer internships not only helped the selected students ― all undergraduates ― to advance in their chosen fields, but also allowed them to return home and give back to the communities in which they grew up.

Wendy Soderburg
Jessa Bayudan

Jessa Fate Bayudan (Asian American Studies Center), a sociology major with minors in public affairs and community engagement and social change, chose to work with LOUD For Tomorrow, a grassroots organization promoting youth empowerment through advocacy and civic engagement. LOUD For Tomorrow is located in Bayudan’s hometown of Delano, Calif., where she grew up after emigrating with her family from Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, in the Philippines. 

“It was a full-circle experience as I went from being one of the participants back in high school to helping develop a curriculum and internship focused on the destigmatization of substance use in youth and communities of color, an issue prevalent in my community,” said Bayudan, who plans to attend graduate school and then work in either education or public policy. “It finally felt like I was giving back to both the organization and community that have shaped my life and passions, as well as my perspectives and inclination to work toward social change.”

Wendy Soderburg
Omar Mondragon

Omar Federico Mondragon (American Indian Studies Center) comes from a family of activists, including an older sister who is the organizing director at Mid-City Community Advocacy Network (CAN) in City Heights, San Diego, where Mondragon interned. Since his freshman year in high school, Mondragon has worked with Mid-City CAN, a group comprised of residents who care deeply about their community and who collaborate to address the needs they find most pressing.

During his internship, Mondragon worked with the Improving Transportation team to connect young people with a free city bus program, and with the Youth Council team to support its summer “Artivism” program. “Mid-City CAN is where I learned how to channel my passion for my community into organizing and advocacy,” said Mondragon, a public affairs major who hopes to work in policy implementation. “Today, Mid-City CAN continues to reach out to the high schools my friends and I attended and to uplift their youth. This is only sustainable when members of our communities come back to serve.”

Wendy Soderburg
Linsey Rodriguez

Linsey Rodriguez (Chicano Studies Research Center) had already accepted a part-time summer job as a barista in her hometown of Lompoc, Calif., before she learned she had been chosen to receive a Gold Shield/IAC internship. “I took the offer before I had a clue as to what other time commitments I would also carry,” said Rodriguez, a sociology major who decided to keep her barista job and also work with Future for Lompoc Youth, or FLY, this summer. “I kept busy, but I loved it, and I could safely say it was one of the best summers I’ve ever had.”

Rodriguez chose FLY ― an organization for high school youth that focuses on college and career-readiness skills ― because it was founded by individuals in Lompoc who noticed the lack of a pipeline from high school to college. “I was more than honored to go back to my alma mater and assist the members of FLY in their research training skills,” she said. “The course allowed me to share my knowledge and experience regarding data collection and ethics with the students.” Rodriguez plans to receive a master’s degree in social work, eventually becoming a child welfare social worker.

Courtesy of Kahlila Williams
Kahlila Williams

Kahlila Williams (Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies) is a double major in sociology and African-American studies who spent her summer interning with Students Deserve, a Los Angeles-based organization that has shaped policy for police-free and community schools and supports investment in Black, Muslim, undocumented, Indigenous and queer youth in poor and working-class communities.

Born in Long Beach, Calif., Williams was placed in foster care at the age of 10 and was raised in Los Angeles, apart from her four sisters. She was introduced to Students Deserve while in high school and chose to return there for her internship, helping to plan and facilitate the organization’s summer internship to provide the next generation of young leaders with the training and skills they need to make change.

“Being able to play a role in shaping the future of these young individuals was an honor, and it reminded me of the importance of education and the impact it can have on individuals and society as a whole,” said Williams, who plans to work full time with Students Deserve after graduation and eventually pursue a Ph.D. in education.

All four of this summer’s internship recipients were introduced to the Gold Shield/IAC internship program by Veronica Terriquez, director of the Chicano Studies Research Center, who met some of them when they took her courses on youth organizing.

“The students who were selected for the Gold Shield internship were exceptional individuals with a deep commitment to advancing social justice in their communities,” Terriquez said. “These students were matched with organizations who are spearheading youth-led efforts to make local governments more accountable to their communities. Students and organizations both gained from this partnership.”

This past summer was the Gold Shield/IAC internship program’s second successful year in operation. The students in 2022’s pilot program included Elvira Aceves (Chicano Studies Research Center); Charlene Cubangbang (Asian American Studies Center); Cheyenne Faulkner (American Indian Studies Center); and Kennedy McIntyre (Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies). Last month, the IAC received news that Gold Shield, one of UCLA’s oldest philanthropic organizations, had voted to provide funding for a third year and beyond.

“The proposal appealed to us because it directly supports UCLA’s academic and community service roles while advancing goals for diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Pamela Viele, chair of Gold Shield’s scholarship committee. “We saw the internships as a ‘win/win/win,’ providing significant impact and immediate results for students, host agencies and the broader UCLA community. For cash-strapped nonprofits that typically host the internships, funding makes it financially feasible to bolster staffing, to expand services to the community, and to provide a meaningful educational experience for students. From a long-term perspective, service learning cultivates an ethos of community engagement that yields societal benefits.”

According to Williams, the Gold Shield internship was “an invaluable stepping stone” in her career journey. “The skills and experience I have gained will prove instrumental in my future endeavors,” she said. “Once again, I extend my heartfelt thanks to Gold Shield for believing in me and providing me with this remarkable opportunity to grow, personally and professionally.”