A woman wearing overalls standing outside in a park.
Holly Trenbath served an internship at the Bates Dance Festival as the technical and site-specific production intern and benefited from the Internship Funding Program. (Contributed photo)

VCU’s Internship Funding Program continues to grow after a successful pilot year

Students can take advantage of both paid and unpaid internships by applying for the IFP.

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Virginia Commonwealth University senior Durban Lopez was able to complete his internship last summer with the U.S. Department of Defense’s U.S. Army Defensive Cyber Operations thanks to support from the new VCU Internship Funding Program.

In order to accept his internship, Lopez had to temporarily move to the Arlington area and find short-term housing. Until he learned about IFP, he didn’t know how he was going to pay for that housing.

“I explained the situation and the money from the IFP came through pretty quickly,” said Lopez who is double majoring in homeland security and emergency preparedness and criminal justice through the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “I was also able to buy some professional clothes. The program helped me achieve one of the steppingstones toward my career goal.”

Created last year by VCU Career Services, and funded by the Division of Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success, the IFP helps make internships more financially viable for students such as Lopez.

Internships funded by the IFP are supervised and structured work experiences that are time-limited, facilitating students’ career exploration, professional networking, transferable skill-building and personal reflection. They may or may not be tied directly to a student’s major or course of study, but ideally complement or supplement academic pursuits, leadership experiences or other interests.

IFP funds may be requested to support internship-related costs including, but not limited to, housing, transit/travel, professional attire or supplies, food, utilities, hourly support for lost wages, child care or other applicable expenses.

Last year, Samara Reynolds, director of VCU Career Services, Division of Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success, hoped the pilot program would receive at least 100 applications.

“Instead, we got 147 applications, and we are hoping for more in our upcoming cycle,” Reynolds said.

This year, the program, which has an April 2 deadline for applying, has at least $275,000 in funding compared to $200,000 in the pilot year, with added support from the Student Life and Learning Fund.

“We supported 51 students last year, and we hope to support at least 70 this year,” said Jeanette Hickl, assistant director, internships and experiential programs, VCU Career Services.

Students who received the funding last year worked in 18 different industries, five different countries and 13 different states and districts.

“We don’t limit geographically,” Reynolds said. “We want students to take this wherever they want to go.”

There are some changes and additions to this year’s website and application. In response to feedback, the FAQ section on the IFP’s site has been expanded with the addition of sub-sections that provide more clarity for students.

Students are required to complete a budget worksheet with the application. The Virginia Credit Union Financial Success Center at VCU’s Money Spot coaches created an on-demand budget session as students work through the application’s Budget Worksheet Template. Additionally, students can schedule one-on-one sessions with a Money Spot coach for more personalized assistance.

“We are also going to have a short video available from one of last year’s applicants and funding recipients who will talk about her budget worksheet and provide peer-to-peer advice,” Hickl said.

Last year, the program required documentation that showed proof of application. This year, students must provide proof of being invited to interview for the specific internship they are applying to fund or proof of an offer, if received. This can include an email from a human resources or general staff member of that organization inviting the student to interview, an email confirmation of their scheduled interview with the organization, or a copy of the offer email/letter. 

Sally Wells, a senior majoring in painting + printmaking in the VCU School of the Arts, took an unpaid internship at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond last year by using funds she received through the IFP.

“This was a great opportunity to pursue this internship without the stress and burden of wondering how I would pay my bills,” Wells said. “I didn’t have enough money to do an unpaid internship. This was really helpful.”

The main focus of the internship was to set up a nontoxic etching program at the arts center.

“I had a background in etching,” they said. “The project is not completed. Even though my internship is over, I’m volunteering to help install the program.”

The internship helped Wells get more involved in the arts community.

“Working there was great. It’s a great community of people,” they said. “The internship helped me make connections with other artists in Richmond.”

For more information, visit careers.vcu.edu/resources/internshipfundingprogram/.