It’s your junior year. You’re a history major, and you’ve been offered a coveted internship with your state’s senior senator in her Washington, DC, legislative office. It’s unpaid, as these things normally are. It could be your ticket to a dream career on the Hill.
But what if you can’t afford to work for free?
History’s No Free Mopping started with a student who asked this very question.
Each year, this merit-based scholarship program provides assistance to U-M History majors who have accepted unpaid internships. Students have to make a case for the department’s support, and how the internship fits into their career plans.
Since 2013, No Free Mopping has helped twenty-one students gain a range of experiences with organizations from Amnesty International to the March of Dimes to the Daily Caller.
“We don’t require that it’s not for profit. We don’t require that it’s history based—we want students to think about their skills as applicable elsewhere,” said Anne Berg, History’s assistant director of undergraduate education and No Free Mopping’s founder.
“It doesn’t cover their costs if they are living in DC or New York City or Chicago, but it helps a little bit,” said Berg.
And what about the name, No Free Mopping?
“I read articles about unpaid internships where people just make coffee and things like that,” Berg said. “So I decided that people are basically just mopping for free, and that’s not what we want. So that’s where our name comes from: No Free Mopping.”
The tongue-in-cheek moniker stuck.
“I am not able to afford to work for free, so No Free Mopping gave me an opportunity to gain experience in my chosen field without taking a financial hit,” said Jeane DuBose (BA 2017), who had a summer position with the Legal Council for Health Justice.
For some, the experience cemented their career plans.
“Since 2013, I’ve been able to successfully leverage my experiences and connections from my internship at the Center for American Progress into new jobs and fellowships both at the US Department of State and abroad through the Fulbright Program and the Princeton in Latin America Program,” said Conor Lane (BA 2013).
Brighid Stone (BA 2014) has a similar experience. “My internship gave me an ‘in’ to the editorial world that many of my future colleagues obtained through either an additional degree or internships on their own college campuses,” she said. Stone wouldn’t have been able to take the internship without the help of No Free Mopping.
For others, it helped them decide what they didn’t want to do.
“Not long after I began my internship, I quickly discovered it was not for me,” said Jose Miranda (BA 2014). “Thanks to the stipend, though, I did not feel that I lost much, or anything, during my internship. On the contrary, No Free Mopping’s cushioning allowed me to convert my experience into a life lesson, without any serious financial bruising.”
No Free Mopping gave Miranda the flexibility to take a chance.
The program isn’t just about funding. Its educational component encourages the students to think about their future and the meaning of their work.
“We wanted them to critically engage with what they were doing, how they were using their history skills, how they thought this was helping them,” said Berg.
No Free Mopping also demonstrates the range of careers available to history majors. In fact, only two of its twenty-one participants had internships with a historical focus. The others built upon skills the students developed as history majors: research, writing, analyzing, and processing large amounts of information.
Stone found it useful to learn what others in her No Free Mopping cohort were doing. “It gave me some other ideas of what I could do with my history degree after graduation,” she said.
The program’s success raises a tricky issue. “We don’t want to give students money so companies wouldn’t have to pay them,” said Berg. “But that’s the conundrum we’re facing.” No Free Mopping won’t force businesses and non-profits to end the practice of unpaid internships—some organizations simply don’t have funding to do so—but it can help lower barriers to students who can’t afford to work for free.