Student Internships In The Age Of Virtual Staffing

After adopting a virtual model for its college internship program, UFCU continued to build out financial wellness counseling, networking, and scholarship components.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • When UFCU switched to virtual internships, it continued to provide a valuable experience to students and the enterprise.
  • The internships are part of a two-part initiative called Student Success, which helps students holistically manage scholarships and careers.

University Federal Credit Union ($3.1B, Austin, TX) created its UFCU Scholars program in 2018. In 2019, the Austin-based credit union combined that program withan existing internship program to create a two-part initiative called Student Success. No one could have predicated what was on the horizon for 2020.

Rhonda Summerbell, Director of Relationship Management & Community Impact, UFCU

When the pandemic struck during the first few months of the year, organizations across the country canceled internships, throwing into flux the academic as well as career plans of thousands of students. UFCU whose field of membership includesthe flagship University of Texas campus in Austin found another way to serve its students. It put a virtual spin on Student Success.

Our program was designed to be an in-person experience, but the pandemic made that impossible, says Rhonda Summerbell, UFCU’s director of relationship management and community impact. Because of that, we moved the program toa 100% virtual setting, including our professional development and networking events.

UFCU provided 11 internships this past summer and nine this fall semester. Interns make at least $15 an hour and work in multiple areas, including IT, HR, marketing, relationship management, retail, finance, organizational development, legal, vendor management,and community engagement.

We’re proud we’re helping students be successful, helping our partners achieve their goals, and helping inject the talent our partners are producing back into the community as working adults, Summerbell says.


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Here, Summerbell talks about the innovative approach UFCU is taking to help college students advance in their academic careers and future professions.

What is the Student Success initiative?

Rhonda Summerbell: The Student Success initiative has two prongs. One is the UFCU Scholars program and the other is the internship program.

We launched UFCU Scholars as a value-add to the scholarships we’ve long awarded as part of our giving back to our higher education partners. Along with tuition help, students receive targeted financial education, career and professional developmentmentoring, internship opportunities, and networking.

For our scholars program, we work with the success programs at various college campuses; for example, the University Leadership Network at the University of Texas and Bring Back Bobcats at Texas State University. We provide the criteria, such as GPA,and their programs help select the students.

For our internship program, students must apply for our open internship positions posted on their college job boards. They must submit a resume and go through our normal interview process.

UFCU’s Interns

Internship Zoom

The 2020 summer interns never did meet in person, but they did experience the virtual office environment via Zoom, as this screenshot shows.

UFCU Scholars

At a February UFCU Scholars networking event, students visited the credit union’s headquarters and met with leadership team members. Program specialist Christine Hickey, who directs both the UFCU Scholars and internship programs,is front row center (red jacket and floral print shirt).

Can you talk about the philosophy, strategy, and commitment to the student that underpins this program?

RS: We know people thrive when provided opportunities for a quality education and employment. We want to help students stay in school, graduate, and start their careers as soon as possible.

We give them tools to do that through financial health workshops and career counseling. Managing their finances while in school is important to retention and completion.

This year, we have 30 new UFCU scholars, and all current and former scholars can continue to take advantage of our benefits and opportunities like our Summer Savings challenges, financial health coaching, and networking events. We have 80 total currentand former UFCU scholars. Once a scholar, always a scholar, we say.

Student Reactions To UFCU Internships

All my life I’ve heard reaching out, meeting people, and establishing meaningful connections will make all the difference. It wasn’t until my time at UFCU that this lesson hit home. I’ve had the opportunity to network withpeople all across UFCU through events and meetings. Every one of these conversations taught me something new and left me feeling excited about the opportunities that are ahead. Sarah Roessler, Relationship Management Intern

With the help of my manager, I improved my internal communication skills. Internal communication is something that interests me, and I hope to pursue it. It was also inspirational to know how hard the community engagement department works toconnect employees to the community around them. Not one morning went by when I didn’t want to log-in to work. Katie Bishop, Community Engagement Intern

My internship experience with UFCU could not have come at a better time. My career goals were aimless, and I had been making large life decisions without any knowledge or real plan in mind. Thanks to my supervisor and the UFCU employees whooffered guidance and expertise, I’ve laid the foundation for the type of man and professional I want to be upon graduation. Jonathan Tejeda-Jorge, Retail Ops Intern

Who keeps the internship program on track? What do the students and the credit union gain from it?

RS: We have an amazing program specialist, Christine Hickey, who has been the driving force behind our success with the internships and the UFCU Scholars. She organizes everything, keeps everyone on track from the supervisorsto the interns and ensures our program delivers what we promise.

Virtual internships provide new growth opportunities for both the intern and the credit union. Interns take on projects and jobs that challenge them, and they provide the credit union with tangible outcomes like completed research, projects, and dataanalytics.

Employing interns also gives us the opportunity to make an impact in two areas of strategic focus education and employment while providing viable candidates for future positions at UFCU.

UFCU hasn’t hired any interns from this cohort yet, but that’s because they’re still in school. The credit union has hired interns in the past before the new program began.

Was the transition from in-person to virtual internships a struggle? And is it permanent?

RS: Students are tech-savvy and used to working on projects in school. Participating in a virtual internship will probably be less of a struggle for them than you might expect.

We have definitely seen some benefits in the virtual environment. Logistically, it looks like there could be benefits in hosting multiple virtual events at the same time versus in-person events at different locations.

I’m sure there will be benefits that we’ll keep, but we’re looking forward to being back in person with our scholars and interns.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


September 22, 2020

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