Regional Internship Collaborative hosts Lynchburg-Region workshop to help employers and educators hone internship programs
October 5, 2022
The Center for Economic and Community Engagement’s Regional Internship Collaborative hosted a workshop at Sweet Briar College to help employers and career service professionals make connections and learn how to create high quality internship programs. The workshop was the first in-person event since the Regional Internship Collaborative program started in September 2021. Participants included local Lynchburg employers and educators representing Sweet Briar, Randolph College, the University of Lynchburg, and the CTE Academy at Central Virginia Community College.
The Regional Internship Collaborative covers 13 counties and five cities across the New River Valley, Roanoke-Alleghany, and Lynchburg regions. The program is a part of the Virginia Talent and Opportunity Partnership (V-TOP), supported by the State Council for Higher Education (SCHEV) and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
“VTOP’s goal is to make Virginia the top state for talent, and by 2033, they want to have 100,000 new internship slots,” said Quina Weber-Shirk, the project coordinator for the Regional Internship Collaborative. “The first step is asking what resources are needed in order to make that goal a reality. Access to internships is uneven right now, and that’s an important fact to address.”
According to a 2021 study done by the National Survey of College Internships that surveyed 10,000 undergraduate students across the country, only 21.5 % had an internship. The study also showed that Black, Latino, female, low-income, and first-generation students are less likely to experience a paid internship, even when controlling for majors.
The majority of students, however, were interested in pursuing an internship but had barriers to access. The biggest barrier was students were unsure how to find an internship. Some students also had jobs and did not have the ability to participate in an unpaid internship.
“I think of two areas where I see either challenge or growth,” said Barbara Watts, the director of career services at Sweet Briar College. “One, creating opportunities for international students. And two, tackling the transportation issue that exists. Having transportation in this region is critical. However, many students do not have cars or other transportation. So, what does it mean to create hybrid internship environments, remote internship environments, or flexible schedules to assist students with that barrier?”
A subject of conversation was how employers currently recruit interns. Holly Scheffel, who serves as the business programs coordinator for the Office of Economic Development at Bedford County, said she works with career coaches at the three local high schools as well as business partners to set up industry tours so students can get a feel for different career paths.
“Also, some things happen organically; for example, someone in public works asked me if I could connect him with the technical center because he was interested in hiring interns,” said Scheffel. “That’s why I’m trying to get Bedford County listed as a Youth Registered Apprenticeship Program, because there are so many departments in the work I do that could appeal to students.”
The workshop included an employer panel featuring Tabitha Abbott, director of operations at the Academy Center of the Arts; Jerry Griffin, senior public information officer at Lynchburg Water Resources; and Teresa Campbell, director of Brown Edwards & Company.
“I will say that internships are hard, and you need a person that enjoys teaching and working with interns, to spearhead that program and get it started,” said Campbell. “You have to match your internship program with the right people. And if you’re fortunate to have repeat interns that have had a positive experience, they make it easier because if you allow them to, they will teach the next generation.”
Participants agreed on the importance of making sure students are doing substantive work that will help them gain skills.
“When my interns start, I tell them, ‘I’m not going to make you do a spreadsheet; you’re not going to get me coffee. This is meant for you to help us, but for you to also walk away with some life and work experience that benefits you in your college career,’” said Abbott.
The employers also discussed success stories they had experienced with their interns.
“We had two interns over the summer that filled the void of a full-time staff member who had been with us for eleven years,” said Griffin. “We ended up retaining one of the interns, and that’s the goal. We want our interns to have a wonderful experience, develop their personhood, gifts, talents, and abilities, but we also recruit individuals because we want to build on the knowledge of our organization.”
Resources and more information about the Regional Internship Collaborative can be found at this link: https://cece.vt.edu/R2InternCollab.html
This summer the Regional Internship Collaborative also hosted virtual panel discussions from employers and career services staff in the New River Valley and Roanoke-Alleghany region, which you can view at this link: https://cece.vt.edu/R2InternCollab/video-resources.html
Please contact project coordinator Quina Weber-Shirk (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn more.