June 17, 2013
By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
The Summer Internship Program at the New College Institute (NCI) has grown to record levels, with 51 interns employed by local employers in Martinsville, Henry and Patrick counties and the surrounding area.
Katie Croft, NCI’s coordinator of experiential learning, said this year’s group was chosen from a pool of more than 100 applicants, also a high for the program, which started in 2006.
“We have grown significantly this summer,” she said. “We had 100 applicants, and we were only able to accept 51 interns.
” NCI also plans a paid high school internship program through its Academy for Engineering & Technology, Croft said Friday. The high school program is being made possible through a partnership with Commonwealth Laminating, she added.
More details about the program will be announced next week, she said.
Since its inception, NCI has placed more than 140 interns, Croft said. The expansion of internship opportunities came first from an increase in funding for summer internships through NCI and Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC), then by adding to internship programs for NCI and PHCC students in the spring and fall semesters.
Internships start May 1 and run through Sept. 1, according to a release from NCI. During the internship, students must fulfill 320 work hours with an employer, participate in volunteer projects and attend networking and professional development activities, the release added.
Interns are paid $12.50 per hour, Croft said, or about $4,000 total for the summer. Funding for the internships comes from the New College Foundation, the Harvest Foundation and the employers, who are required to pay a portion of the interns’ salaries.
Employers who take on an intern commit to pay $1,000 of the student’s salary for a new intern. If a student returns to a company for a second summer, the employer must commit $2,000 — half the summer wages — to the student. That way, the increased commitment to a particular intern might persuade a company to make a more long-term investment, Croft said.
“The ultimate goal is that these companies would ... want to hire their students,” she said.
Leanna Blevins, associate director and chief academic officer of NC, said NCI pays its interns so well partially out of a desire to keep local students from leaving the area to seek experience and to draw others to Southside Virginia.
“We wanted students to have an optimal experience, not just a work experience,” she said.
Paying a competitive wage encourages local students to participate “without having to go to Charlotte or Richmond or elsewhere. We want our community to be competitive with all these other communities that have more financial resources,” she added.
Croft noted that many students have to accept unpaid internships, although those could be jeopardized after a federal judge in New York ruled last week that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns who worked on production of the 2010 movie “Black Swan.”
The prospect of unpaid internships becoming more scarce “has been a long time coming,” Croft said. “We at NCI believe it’s important for students to be paid. Internships are becoming a new job requirement.”
Some NCI interns have since returned to the area to work full-time after graduation. That is one goal of the program, according to Blevins.
The idea, she said, is “to plant the seed with young people that this a great place to live and work (and) let them know there are good jobs” locally.
The program involves volunteerism and professional development activities as a way to get interns to invest in the community and see it as a long-term option rather than merely the setting for a summer job, Blevins said.
“Obviously, the work experience is fantastic,” she said. “But the program is holistic,” including social events and community activities, though most of the nonwork activities are optional. “It gives them a better feel for what’s available here,” she said.
“We feel like it’s good exposure for the students. If you have this great (job) opportunity” but don’t get involved with the community outside your internship position, “you may not want to come back because it’s not the kind of life you want,” Blevins added.
For employers, the benefits can be both immediate and long-term, Blevins said.
“A lot of time, employers here don’t get a chance to ‘test-drive’ potential employees before they hire them,” she said. “This gives them a chance to work with young people they want to hire later on.”
Internships also expose companies to younger workers, giving them prospects to hire later from a younger generation, thereby combating “brain drain,” Blevins added.
Dr. Mark Mahoney of Mahoney Family Medicine hired University of Virginia student Emily Wimmer for an internship and said he has been happy with the result.
“Emily has improved our work flow by performing nursing duties and aiding in patient care,” he said in a release from NCI. “Her enthusiasm rejuvenates my love for medicine.”
The post-graduate job market is so tough that who you know is nearly as important as what, Blevins added. The internship program has professional networking built in for that purpose.
“It’s helping them build that social capital they’ll need in the future,” she said. “It’s helping them develop that” even if students don’t realize how necessary it is.
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