Nov. 21, 2023
Internship renewal provides valuable work experience for law students
Catherine Poyen knows first-hand the value of not-for-profit organizations and their role in legal education. As a law student at Dalhousie University, she worked in the legal aid clinic and was able to benefit from the experiential learning opportunity it provided. The experience also opened her eyes to some of the unspoken benefits some students have over others.
"With the rising costs of education and the number of years it takes to become a lawyer, understandably, law students need to earn an income during their summer internships," says Poyen. "This drives most students to the high-paying jobs of big law firms and makes unpaid internships available only to the privileged few. Supporting access to internships is consistent with supporting broader access to a diverse array of students to education and helps diversify the cohort of law students who do not-for-profit work."
"Our family believes in the power of education to change lives and in the need for educated Canadians to contribute meaningfully to the larger community, which was the driving force behind our gift to UCalgary Law in 2016."
Internship reflects family values, shared interests
The John S. Poyen Family Internship, named after Poyen’s father, John, who came to Calgary as a child when oil was discovered in the province, provides a current law student with valuable work experience with an organization that furthers ethics, access to justice, or community responsibility.
"These values have always been important to our family," explains Poyen. "But in recent years, we’ve experienced a widening gap between rich and poor Canadians and, at the same time, governments defunding important social programs. In this context, not-for-profit organizations are necessary to fill those gaps, lobby governments, and provide opportunities for smart, engaged young lawyers to get involved in community organizations."
The Poyen family has renewed its support of the internship for another five years, allowing more law students to gain hands-on learning in the summer while supporting organizations that could not otherwise afford to hire a summer student.
Supporting the internship combines many of the family’s shared interests.
John was a student at the University of Colorado when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He watched as his “tough-as-nails" African-American roommates were shattered by the loss of a president who stood up for civil rights. Civil rights were a life-or-death proposition for his friends, and John never forgot that.
When he developed a friendship with the late Sheldon Chumir, founder of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association and champion of ethics in government and access to justice, he saw Chumir carrying forth ideals forged by memories of his young friends’ sadness and terror at losing ground on civil rights.
Janet Poyen, John’s wife, had a strong appreciation for the importance of education and served as president of Canadian Parents for French. This not-for-profit organization successfully lobbied the federal government to expand French immersion education across Canada in the '70s and '80s. Janet continues to believe in broad access to second-language education based on her belief in the pedagogy of experiential second-language learning.
Jennifer, John and Janet’s second daughter, has been the executive director of Space 4 Art since 2017, a San Diego-based arts non-profit that provides affordable studio, live/work space, and exhibition space for emerging and experimental artists, as well as education opportunities for children in under-resourced communities.
"Together, we reflected on the importance of young people, particularly lawyers, having the opportunity to work in the not-for-profit sector, both while in law school and after graduation. Recognizing the economic reality of students needed to earn income during their summers and seeing that as a barrier for many students, we decided to sponsor a summer internship scholarship with the hope that recipients could pursue their passions and support a variety of organizations that make a difference in the lives of Canadians," says Catherine.
Internship benefits placement organizations
In addition to providing amazing work experience for students, the organizations hosting an internship student benefit as well.
The Women’s Legal Education & Action Fund (LEAF) has been the beneficiary of being able to hire a summer student, allowing the organization to expand its areas of work.
"Having a Poyen intern over the summer has enabled our small team to engage more deeply in new and developing areas of research and advocacy," says project director Kat Owens. "We are very grateful for the relationships we have built with students and the University of Calgary."
Hands-on experience compliments in-classroom learning
Third-year student Ifrah Mukhtar spent the summer of 2022 as an intern with LEAF, allowing her to use her legal education in significant ways.
"LEAF presented me with the opportunity to utilize my law degree to be of service in a meaningful and material way. Whether it was an assignment advocating for bail reform or intervening in Indigenous family law cases, each assignment had its unique significance and affirmed why this profession and its endless opportunities are a privilege."
In addition to supporting law students and not-for-profit organizations, the Poyen family hopes to instill the value of philanthropy in those who participate in internship opportunities.
"The jobs you have throughout your legal education leave a lasting impact on you," explains Poyen. "Even if you pursue a career in a big law firm, your summer jobs impact how you look at the world, what you value, and the lessons and experiences you have live with you. We hope that students will remember these values and experiences and pay them forward when they are able to do so."