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A SCHEV grant will fund a two-year pilot program at VCU to increase opportunities for students to engage in transformative experiential learning, supported by trained supervisors. (File photo)

As part of a pilot program, VCU will transform 50 on-campus jobs into internships

VCU will work with supervisors across campus to transform an initial 50 Federal Work-Study jobs into on-campus internships, expanding access to experiential learning opportunities for VCU students.

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Virginia Commonwealth University has been awarded a grant from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia that will transform on-campus Federal Work-Study jobs into internships to support student workers’ learning and career development.

The SCHEV grant will fund a two-year pilot program at VCU to increase opportunities for students to engage in transformative experiential learning, supported by trained supervisors. It will convert an initial 50 on-campus positions to internships and will incentivize faculty and staff supervisors to develop work-study position descriptions that meet set learning objectives and align with VCU’s REAL initiative – for Relevant, Experiential and Applied Learning.

“This project will be focused on a collaborative effort at converting an initial 50 on-campus Federal Work-Study positions into true on-campus internships, providing support and infrastructure to students and their supervisors to increase paid internships and career development opportunities right here at VCU,” said Samara Reynolds, executive director of VCU Career Services in the Division of Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success.

Reynolds is co-leading the project with Norm Bedford, associate vice president for Student Financial Services, and Erin Webster Garrett, associate vice provost for VCU REAL.

“VCU and VCU Health are also consistently high on the list of top employers for VCU graduates, so these on-campus internship experiences have the potential to both open doors to future full-time opportunities at VCU as well as prepare students with the career readiness skills they need to succeed within any organization or industry,” Reynolds said. “Employers are looking to hire individuals with skills including communication, teamwork, leadership and critical thinking – we believe these competencies can all be honed as a working learner on our campus.”

Federal Work-Study is a program that funds jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, which can help pay for college expenses. It is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Education, and in recent years, there has been a steady increase in participation, with 1,157 VCU students in FWS positions in academic year 2023, up from 1,072 in 2022 and 911 in 2021.

By transforming FWS jobs at VCU, the pilot program will also expand access to experiential learning opportunities for students from underrepresented groups, such as first-generation college students, who might otherwise encounter barriers related to information, encouragement and financial resources.

“By eliminating the difficult choice students must often make between taking on a paid position or pursuing academically relevant, experiential learning, this project would bridge a gap between financial need and access to real-world experiences that lead to greater socioeconomic mobility,” according to VCU’s grant application.

By the end of the pilot program, VCU hopes to have the information and infrastructure necessary to expand the concept across campus and possibly for off-campus Federal-Work Study roles as well.

The grant is part of the Virginia Talent + Opportunity Partnership, which is a partnership of SCHEV, the Virginia Chamber Foundation and the Virginia Business Higher Education Council to facilitate the internship readiness of students, institutions and employers. It was one of four grants recently awarded by SCHEV to expand paid and credit-bearing student internships and other work-based learning opportunities.

“Many underrepresented and first-generation students must prioritize financial aid work-study commitments over other experiential or work-based learning opportunities,” Alisha Bazemore, Ed.D., assistant director of innovative work-based learning initiatives at SCHEV, said in a news release. “This effort is meant to break down those barriers, transforming on-campus jobs by improving connections to coursework.”