Center for Health Workforce at Mason

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VCU’s internship fund expands access 

11-17-2022 13:10

Internships often help college students learn what they want to do as a profession by expanding their horizons, providing on-the-job experience or helping them change paths to follow a new passion.

For instance, an internship helped Virginia Commonwealth University student Oscar Kemp discover that his interest in domestic social work applied just as well to international policy. Another Ram, Kimesha Robinson, decided to switch her major from accounting to finance. And Chadwick Davilsaint kept doing what he loves — performing arts — but he got paid for it.

All three VCU undergrads were beneficiaries of the university’s new Internship Funding Program, which started this summer. A total of 51 students received up to $5,000 each to supplement unpaid or underpaid internships.

Oscar Kemp was a Public Policy and International Affairs fellow at the University of Michigan, with financial support from VCU’s Internship Funding Program. Photo by Caroline Martin

The university’s new funding program is vital, says Megan Hollis, VCU Career Services’ associate director of health sciences career advising. Although many students would benefit from internship experiences, often those who come from middle- to lower-income households cannot afford to take on nonpaying or low-paying internships.

“A lot of students have to make the choice between working a [paid] job and getting experience” via an internship, she says. “This way, they don’t have to work part time” to cover living expenses while interning and can concentrate on learning skills and networking opportunities.

Undergraduate college students who complete paid internships land higher-paying first jobs a year after graduation, according to research released in March by Strada Center for Education Consumer Insights.

In the past, when internships were rarely paid, only students with independent income or family wealth could participate, and although more interns receive pay now, access is uneven. Less than one-third of recent graduates participated in a paid internship, Strada reported, and “Black and Latino students, women, low-income and first-generation students are less likely to experience a paid internship.”

However, programs like VCU’s Internship Funding Program aim to increase access to internships with funding. More than 40% of the first group of VCU recipients are first-generation college students and almost half are eligible for financial need-based federal
Pell Grants.

Twenty-four percent of the VCU internship program participants received immediate offers of further employment, either full-time or part-time jobs or continued internships, Hollis notes.

Among the industries represented in the program’s internships this year were arts, biotech, business, engineering, education, financial services, health, government, law, manufacturing, retail, technology and transportation. For several students, the internships also provided international experience.

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