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5 in 5! with FIRE, a free speech advocacy nonprofit

April 14, 2011

Foundation for Individual Rights in EducationThe Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty and sanctity of conscience.

Jaclyn Hall with FIRE interns

Jaclyn Hall, middle stands with the FIRE intern class of 2008.

As associate director of FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network, Jaclyn Hall coordinates student outreach efforts to make more students aware of FIRE’s resources. She also helps students who want to educate their peers about student rights and lobby their schools to ease speech restrictions.

1. What do you look for when you hire an intern?

FIRE defends students and student groups from across the political spectrum who are censored on campus. I look for interns who believe in free speech, and will defend the rights of their fellow students to speak on campus, even if they totally disagree with them.

2. How did you get started in the industry? How can I get started?

I got started as a FIRE intern! I learned a lot during my summer at FIRE, and then kept in touch with people from the office when I went back to school. A few months before I graduated, a full-time position opened up and I was invited to apply.

To get started in nonprofit work, think about an issue that you are deeply passionate about, whether it is free speech, or animal rights, or improving education. Then, look for an internship opportunity at an organization that does work that you care about. An internship is a great way to get started in the nonprofit world. You learn a lot about the day-to-day functions of the organization and make contacts that can lead to a full-time position.

3. What is the future of your industry?

The nonprofit world is robust and diverse, and there are hundreds of organizations that students and recent graduates can get involved with across the country and internationally. For FIRE specifically, liberty will always need defenders. With 67 percent of the colleges we survey maintaining policies that seriously infringe upon students’ free speech rights, we still have a lot of work left to do to restore free speech, academic freedom and due process to campus.

4. What is one main thing an intern can do to make a favorable impression? To make a negative impression?

Outstanding applicants show me in their cover letter that they understand FIRE and our mission, and are enthusiastic about working with us. I appreciate students who write about how their experience, interests, and skills would work for our particular organization, not just any internship in general.

The worst thing an applicant can do is use a mail-merged cover letter. I can always tell!

5. Give us a positive intern story? An intern horror story?

For a horror story, one former intern decided that she did not believe in free speech a few weeks into the internship. Needless to say, she did not have a very good summer.

The best FIRE interns (and there have been many) go back to their college at the end of the summer and advocate for student rights at their school. Several have worked with administrators and student government to successfully revise unconstitutional policies at colleges like the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary. It is really inspiring to watch former interns make their campuses a better and freer place for future students.