An areal view of the VCU Compass plaza

VCU awards more than $270,000 to help students engage in summer internships

VCU Internship Funding Program is supporting 79 students and helping them gain critical real-world learning experiences.

Share this story

In its second year, the Internship Funding Program (IFP) at Virginia Commonwealth University has awarded $270,800 in one-time funding to help students cover expenses needed to engage in summer internships.

The program, which began as a pilot project in 2022, has grown significantly: It awarded 79 scholarships this year (up from 51 last year), and students represented seven VCU colleges and schools and 34 academic majors (up from six and 27, respectively.) This year’s funding was a notable increase from the $197,700 distributed last year, and awards ranged from $500 to a maximum of $5,000. There were 14 students this year who received the top figure based on their specific need.

The number of applications grew to 221 this year from 147 last year. The College of Engineering represented the largest increase in applications among VCU units, but the majority of applicants were from the School of Business, the School of the Arts and the College of Humanities and Sciences. IFP award recipients are working with 76 organizations in 18 industries and 9 different countries this summer. Thirty-nine students (49% of awardees) received support to engage in otherwise unpaid internships.

The VCU Internship Funding Program helps pay for rent, travel and other expenses that, for many students, can make or break participation in a summer internship. This can be especially true for first-generation and underrepresented minority students, with more than 40% of this year’s applicants falling into one or both categories.

Last year, the program received funding from VCU’s Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success division. Additional funding this year came from the Student Life and Learning Fund, which is cultivated by VCU Development and Alumni Relations.  

“All students should have access to an internship experience,” said Samara Reynolds, executive director of VCU Career Services. “Even with this great goal in mind, we realize that there are barriers for students to participate even if they want to. Funding is a big part of that. This program helps make VCU’s promise of accessible experiential learning opportunities possible because it gives students access to funding so they can say yes to great internship roles.”

She noted that the VCU Internship Funding Program directly supports the goal of experiential learning. VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., has said publicly that he wants every student to participate in an internship before graduation.

“We had a great pilot and have ongoing support for it,” Reynolds said. “The president highlighted it in his State of the University speech, and it is in line with the provost’s transformative learning initiative, as well.”

The program was adjusted this year based on input from last year’s students, employers and review committee members. One of the biggest changes was an extension of the deadline to apply from March 15 to April 2. Students must apply and have proof of interview or offer for an internship opportunity, and then they can apply for IFP funding.

“That gave students more time to pursue an opportunity and apply for funding,” Reynolds said.

The program’s website was updated, too. More FAQs were added to help students identify funding opportunities and fill out the application online. The required budget worksheet was also improved to help applicants better understand their financial needs.

“We did make a lot of good changes for this year based on student and stakeholder feedback,” Reynolds said. “We really wanted to improve the process with an eye towards scalability and access. We want to have as many students exposed to this opportunity as possible.”

Another change was adding a midsummer survey for 2023. Last year, the program did pre- and post-internship surveys, but this summer the program is touching base with participants midway through their internships. The goal is to collect more information but also nudge students into asking about later employment and professional development opportunities.

“I hope we can plant that seed,” Reynolds said. “As students move toward the end of the internship, they can ask about future employment and professional references. They need to express their interest directly. I think some students don’t know that is something they can bring up proactively.”

She said students and alumni from the pilot year have given positive feedback about their experiences. Many showed direct interest in a career related to their internship or with their summer employer.

“Many said, ‘I love this organization and want to work there full time,’” Reynolds said. “Either way, they made great connections and were able to intentionally build their résumé for a particular type of role or industry, setting them up for future success.”