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VCU, ChamberRVA secure grant to address internship shortages in region

VCU and Chamber RVA logosThe State Commission on Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) has awarded a $250,000 capacity building grant to VCU and ChamberRVA to strengthen the talent pipeline in the Richmond region.

The award will support a new initiative, the RVA-VTOP Collaborative, the goals of which include increasing the number of paid internship opportunities and the number of local students prepared to fill them. “Creating a pathway for students to start forming relationships in the local business community is a powerful tool for improving talent retention,” said Beth Weisbrod, director of RVA NOW, ChamberRVA’s talent retention and recruitment initiative. “We have a lot of companies in the region with robust internship programs, however we need more if we’re going to keep college graduates here.”

"This grant provides an exciting opportunity to create deeply engaging and meaningful internship experiences that expand knowledge and skills that lead to jobs and entrepreneurism for our students," said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health. "And at the same time, this effort strengthens the Richmond region's economy by supporting the entry of new talent into the workforce."

The initiative will engage a multi-departmental team from VCU, including VCU REAL, VCU Career Services, VCU’s Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness, and Success, and staff from ChamberRVA’s RVA NOW program. The partners will build a working collaborative, with representatives from the business community, economic development, higher education, and school districts for thorough and inclusive regional input to achieve the program’s goals.

One of the collaborative’s first steps will be to inventory and assess existing experiential learning programs at schools and colleges across GO Virginia Region 4 (Richmond region), as well as to identify employer needs for student engagement. The grant will fund the creation of two project coordinator positions, one at VCU and one at ChamberRVA, to ensure the success and sustainability of the initiative.

“We’re thrilled to receive this grant, and eager to put our work plan into action,” Erin Webster Garrett, assistant vice provost for REAL at VCU, said. “It’s been exciting to see our partnership with ChamberRVA grow, and to find opportunities to combine everyone’s expertise and skills to benefit the region.”

According to Brian Anderson, CEO of ChamberRVA, “Increasing the talent pool starts with increasing the number of internships that will draw students to the region and open their eyes to the quality of life the Richmond region offers. We’re excited to begin this work with our VCU partners.”

The RVA-VTOP Collaborative’s approach to increasing the number of internship-ready student and employers includes:

  • Identifying, evaluating, prioritizing, and disseminating scalable programs surrounding internship readiness
  • Connecting students and employers with a focus on recruiting and hiring students in paid internships and other work-based learning opportunities
  • Determining and establishing progress and success measures that allow for accurate assessment and monitoring of progress

“This project will allow us to intentionally infuse concepts and language related to career development and essential professional competencies into training opportunities for both students and employers preparing for robust internship experiences,” Samara Reynolds, director of VCU Career Services, said.

“There is a lot of nationwide competition for Virginia’s young talent. We need to do everything we can to encourage these soon-to-be graduates to come and stay here,” added Anderson.