College of Liberal Arts students stand in an air traffic control tower at Philadelphia International Airport
Photography by: David Rosenblum

By: Nick Santangelo

Thinking about an internship? You might want to think about Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) which will pay about 50 college student interns between $12 and $16 an hour this summer in positions that vary from sustainability to civic engagement to government relations and beyond.

A group of Temple University College of Liberal Arts (CLA) students recently reached out to Associate Director of Student Professional Development Liz Anselmo about PHL internships, and she leaped at the opportunity to connect them with the airport. Out of that was born Experience PHL, a Jan. 25 trip to the airport where 19 CLA students learned about internship opportunities while also delivering food and hygienic product donations to employees who were working without pay through the government shutdown.

"It was really helpful for students interested in applying for internships," says Anselmo. "We got information that you wouldn't find publicly. We learned some tips for how and when to apply, and our students now have a leg up when applying."

The airport staff told students about the pay structures and how the airport is still growing and is looking for applicants who can help make the best first impression possible on visitors coming to Philadelphia from around the globe.

Our students now have a leg up when applying 

Some of the most important areas for interns to work on are helping PHL expand in a way that's as respectful to environmental sustainability as possible and ensuring the airport follows government regulations.

"Interns serve as gatekeepers, in a way, to the airport, making sure that the airport is represented and advocated for, particularly with a lot of the government legislation," says Anselmo. "Government Relations was overseeing a lot of the aftermath of the government shutdown. The TSA workers hadn't been paid for a while, so Government Relations was managing a food pantry for them to come pick out food items and hygiene products.

"They told us about the different stories of TSA workers. Some had newborn babies and didn't have any money coming in, and they just needed bare minimum stuff, like formula to feed their babies."

When the students found out there was a food pantry for employees affected by the shutdown, they insisted on making it part of their trip. Not content with just visiting, they wanted to help and support the airport and its unpaid employees, which led to them gathering donations for the food pantry.

For global studies major and French minor Najah Springer, the experience helped humanize the government shutdown. Being a college student who doesn't have any government-employed friends or family members meant Springer previously only associated the shutdown with things like delayed tax returns.

"But when you go down to the airport and you see canned food and fresh bread and detergent, it really makes you think, 'Wow, there are people out there who were suffering, and they were really struggling during the shutdown,'" she recalls.

She's not alone in having felt that way. Freshman global studies and political science major Sophia Tran says that while hearing about the shutdown on the news had made her sad, it wasn't something she was thinking about daily.

Seeing 300 federal workers coming to PHL's food pantry on the day of CLA's visit, however, showed her firsthand how the shutdown was affecting local Philadelphians and she wanted to get involved in donating food. She did just that, raising $200 for groceries in 24 hours from her friends and fellow Temple students.

There are people out there who were suffering

Many students who made the trip, like junior Kai Evans, were political science majors. And while the shutdown ended just days after their visit, the timing allowed them to see the human cost of certain government actions (or inactions). Evans recalls one worker in particular who was trying to scrape by on no paycheck after his wife had just had a newborn baby. The political science major who took an interest in the airport's Government Affairs department says the pantry was "interesting and sad at the same time."

And now that Evans has seen how many opportunities there are at the airport, she plans to pursue a civic engagement internship there this summer.  

As for Tran, because she's a freshman, she wasn't previously aware of what internship opportunities were like anywhere, let alone at the airport. But now that she's learned about all PHL has to offer, she's "excited" to eventually apply for a PHL Government Affairs internship.

Springer, meanwhile, was drawn to the Legal and Community Outreach departments.

"My interest and focus are always to break the disparity between the black community and job opportunities," she explains. "We are in Philadelphia, which is a very diverse and cultural city. As long as we're able to do community outreach and figure out what the problems in these neighborhoods are, that's an opportunity I'm definitely interested in."

Moving the needle on those types of problems is something Anselmo says CLA students are particularly well-suited to do thanks to their unique worldviews and critical-thinking skills.

"They can come in, and they can be nimble, flexible and critically assess their surroundings," she says. "They're oftentimes good listeners and evaluators who can share their own input as to how they can help. They are sharp critical thinkers because in their classes they have to read through so much material, and they have to quickly process it and be able to figure out what the issue at hand is. This is also helpful in the workforce"

The government shutdown issue may (at least for three weeks) be resolved, but through their classwork and internships, CLA students can learn to develop creative ideas for resolving the big issues they'll one day face in their careers.