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Why Campus Philly is funding Black and brown college students in unpaid tech internships

The new Tech Scholars program is taking aim at inequity in Philly's tech job pipeline.

Students network at a past Campus Philly event. (Courtesy photo)
You should pay your interns. But if you don’t, Campus Philly might pick up your slack.

The college student engagement nonprofit is distributing $20,000 among 20 Black and brown college students who participated in an unpaid or “underpaid” tech or tech-adjacent internship in Philadelphia during summer or fall 2021.

Called the Campus Philly Tech Scholars program, the funding is part of a Most Diverse Tech Hub grant from the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce (through which, full disclosure, Technically Media also received a grant; check out our reporting series underwritten by that funding).

Unpaid internships exacerbate racial inequity in the workforce. After all, the people more likely to be able to take them already come from financial means — which in Philadelphia means the people more likely to be able to take them are also more likely to be white. New Campus Philly President Dr. Jennifer Johnson Kebea said she wants the program to improve the way in which college students from underrepresented backgrounds and of lesser resources pursue tech careers.

“We don’t want students to have to make a choice between building knowledge and expertise between pursuing an emerging career and making money,” she told Technical.ly. “In a small way, Campus Philly is trying to ameliorate that issue.”

Campus Philly is defining unpaid or underpaid internships as paying less than $15 per hour. In the organization’s research on living wages in Philadelphia and throughout America, it found that $15 per hour seems to be the benchmark in life-sustaining earnings for professionals, Kebea said.

Over the last year, Campus Philly has amplified the voices of Black and brown tech pros in the hopes that students from underrepresented backgrounds can see themselves and people like them in the tech job pipeline. Its Black & Brown Students in Tech virtual job fair also helped these students find professional opportunities and network with top tech employers in Philly. The next edition will happen on Oct. 19.

Kebea hopes the Tech Scholars program can improve Black and brown students’ professional opportunities while providing employers with capable interns.

“Financial challenges are on both sides of the equation,” she said. “On the flip side, there are some employers such as small companies that could really benefit from students in internships” — but otherwise couldn’t afford to take them on.

Black and brown college students who took on unpaid or underpaid internships with Philly-based tech companies this summer or fall can apply for one of the $1,000 scholarships through Oct. 8.

Apply for funding Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Campus Philly / City of Philadelphia
Series: PHL: Most Diverse Tech Hub

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