New effort aims to boost internship availability for Virginia’s college students

Keeping PACE initiative tackles issue from business, higher education and policy perspectives

VCU students Douglas Smith and Maddie Berghuis, who are both members of VCU LEAD, a living-learning program for undergraduates dedicated to developing their leadership skills, were among those contributing to the discussion about improving internship opportunities in the state. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing)
VCU students Douglas Smith and Maddie Berghuis, who are both members of VCU LEAD, a living-learning program for undergraduates dedicated to developing their leadership skills, were among those contributing to the discussion about improving internship opportunities in the state. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

A group of students, educators, elected officials and business leaders met Friday at Virginia Commonwealth University to explore ways of increasing the availability of meaningful college internships that can lead to post-graduation jobs.

The meeting was part of the Keeping PACE initiative, which stems from a desire among Virginia legislators, higher education administrators and business leaders to improve internship offerings in the state. Improved internships would not only provide students with better learning experiences during their college years, but also give employers early access to talent and a chance to observe potential employees at work.

Ultimately, initiative leaders believe internships can help build stronger student-employer relationships at Virginia-based businesses and encourage graduates to stay in the state for their employment. This aims to fight a recent trend of young, skilled workers leaving Virginia for employment after college.

The meeting featured remarks from VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D.; Kirk Cox, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates; and Siobhan Dunnavant, M.D., a member of the Senate of Virginia.

Siobhan Dunnavant, M.D., a Virginia state senator, and Kirk Cox, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, discussed the key issues surrounding internships in the state. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing)
Siobhan Dunnavant, M.D., a Virginia state senator, and Kirk Cox, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, discussed the key issues surrounding internships in the state. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Rao said a collaborative approach was crucial to improving the internship landscape in Virginia and guaranteeing internships are offered equitably.

“It is critical that we ensure students from underserved and underrepresented populations receive equal opportunities at internships,” Rao said. “With support from the General Assembly and through partnerships with businesses, our students can achieve the American dream. 

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., and Erin Webster Garrett, Ph.D., assistant vice provost for REAL at VCU, spoke about the importance of internships to college students. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing)
VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., and Erin Webster Garrett, Ph.D., assistant vice provost for REAL at VCU, spoke about the importance of internships to college students. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

A higher education panel discussion at the meeting focused on internship concepts that have worked at various institutions, the value of high-quality internships for students, scalable ideas for future internship models/programs, and what institutions are doing to increase the pipeline of prepared interns. During a panel discussion of business leaders, the conversation tackled how to engage Virginia employers on both internship program design and promotion.