Three people sitting in chairs
Internships can be a key part of a student’s growth and help them better understand their career goals. (Getty Images)

New summer internship funding helps students gain invaluable career experiences

Program provides nearly $200,000 to 51 undergraduate students, encourages experiential learning efforts.

Share this story

Experiential learning is an important part of the educational mission at Virginia Commonwealth University. A pilot program through the Division of Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success is aiding in that effort.

Called the VCU Internship Funding Program, the project provides up to $5,000 to undergraduate students, helping to pay costs associated with serving summer internships. A total of $197,000 was awarded to 51 students through the program.

“This program is the first of its kind at VCU,” said Samara Reynolds, director of VCU Career Services. “Funding was available to all undergraduates, across all majors and schools/colleges. Eligible experiences could be unpaid internships or underpaid internships, including if students needed funding to put down a housing deposit in a new city or  get to the location of the internship.”

In the past, individual schools have operated smaller programs, but the division wanted to test the idea across the entire university. Applications opened in January and closed in March. Students had to have applied for an internship, though some had already been extended offers at the point of seeking funding. For the application, students had to write multiple essays and fill out a budget worksheet, which calculated expenses associated with the internship.

Often, students want to participate an internship, but financial barriers can be a deterrent. The program focused on students who had self-reported financial need. Students, however, were not required to submit financial aid paperwork.

“Financial aid doesn’t tell the whole story of a student’s actual day-to-day funding needs,” Reynolds said. “We asked them to share a narrative for their need during the summer, including potential lost wages from a part-time job unrelated to their career path, childcare costs, etc.”

Demand for the funding was strong. The division had hoped for at least 100 applicants, but it received a total of 147 applications. Fifty-one students were allocated funding, representing 27 different majors.

A wide array of students participated in the program. According to the data, 41% were first-generation students, and 47% of those awarded grants were Pell Grant eligible. Students are engaging in internships in five countries, 13 U.S. states and 30 cities around the world. Underrepresented minorities represented 43% of the students who received a grant.

Reynolds said students had different needs and asked for different levels of funding. A few students only needed a couple hundred dollars, but 65% were awarded between $4,000 and the full amount of $5,000.

Students earned internships at employers ranging from large corporations such as Amazon and Capital One to smaller organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Reynolds said she is excited to talk to the students and the employers after the internships are over. Her team wants to understand what the students learned and what experiences they garnered from the internships. At the same time, she wants to speak with the employers and understand if they would be interested in having a VCU student as an intern or full-time hire in the future based on this summer’s engagement.

Reynolds said an internship can be a key part of a student’s growth and help them better understand their career goals, including whether a particular industry or organization is a good fit for them longer-term.

“I think it is undersold in how valuable an internship can be in career exploration and even deciding what is not for you,” Reynolds said. “It’s only a small investment of time for one summer or one year and not having to dive into a full-time job in a certain field or organization without prior knowledge or experience of fit can be worth the investment.”

Over the next few weeks, VCU News will be interviewing several of the students who received VCU Internship Funding awards. The goal is to understand what the students have gained from the internship and the role that the IFP grant played in their participating in the experience.

“There is definitely a correlation between having done an internship and getting a full-time job after graduation,” Reynolds said. “It can be at the organization a student interned at or another. It plays an important role in the student experience.”