Assuanta Howard and Sandra Mejia
Historically underrepresented college students are vital to our economy yet express lack of accessibility to the real-world experience needed to navigate professional careers. On the other hand, small businesses have long expressed the need for workers with the fundamental skills to fuel growth, and often find difficulties accessing workforce pipelines. The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Fellows program creates a win-win situation by connecting local small businesses and historically underrepresented college students through paid internship opportunities.
The program was piloted at LaGuardia Community College during the Fall 2021 semester. To date we have selected 138 students to participate as interns at 100 small businesses. The Goldman Sachs Foundation provided $720K in funding to support the 2-year pilot; $480K was allocated to stipends for the interns. We worked with the Business and Technology department and other academic departments, Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, Center for Career and Professional Development, and Career Technical Education Assistant Center to recruit students for the program. Students and small business owners applied and were selected to participate in the program. Over 200 businesses applied to join the program during the first cohort. Staffing included a Full-time Internship Manager, Part-time Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives, and Part-time Alumni Manager. The team worked together to select, match and place students with the small businesses. Students, small business owners, and supervisors were onboarded to the program and given tools to ensure that both parties had a good and productive experience. The Internship Manager developed training material and advised the interns throughout their time in the program. The Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives and the Alumni Manager interviewed, selected, and advised the small business owner alumni of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.
Internship programs are instrumental to students’ professional development. Paid internships, specifically, have been found to be beneficial to the college in numerous ways. Paid internships strengthen ties to alumni and the community, benefits curriculum through feedback from employers, helps with retention and graduation rates, and strengthens the students’ relationship with the college. Even though about 40% of college students participate in internships, the National Association for Colleges and Employers (NACE) has found that Hispanic students are more likely than any other racial group to have had no internship experience by graduation. Approximately less than 6% of Hispanic students participate in internships while in college. As a Hispanic-Serving Institution and one of the largest educators of New York State’s Hispanic population, with over 8,000 Hispanic students from over 30 countries pursuing degrees, we are proud to share that about 40% of participants of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Fellows program at LaGuardia Community College identify as Hispanic.
According to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Fellows Report, the program is supporting small businesses in reaching their business goals and investing in the professional growth of local talent. The early findings have been overwhelmingly positive and affirm the case for continued ways to connect small businesses and students to resources, new talent pipelines, and real-world experience. The report states that 87% of student participants stated that the internship was a meaningful work experience and 83% of student participants reported that they gained new skills and knowledge that would contribute to their future goals, including problem solving and critical thinking skills. 81% of business owner participants shared that the internship created value for their business.
Through this program we have learned the importance of collaborating with local businesses, college faculty, career services, and other college departments to bridge the gap between education and employment. By observing students in a real-world working environment, business owners can bring to our attention curriculum and professional development gaps. For example, despite the popularity of Social Media Marketing opportunities within small businesses, our students were not being taught social media marketing in the classrooms. To bridge the gap, we partnered with the Career and Professional Programs department at LaGuardia Community College to offer our Fellows student participants, matched with a social media marketing opportunity, a scholarship for their Digital Marketing course and 3 college credits upon completion. By partnering with Adult and Continuing Education programs, we were able to provide our students with free and relevant training to better equip them for their internships. Based on student and employer feedback we identified soft skill gaps, as well. To address these gaps, we developed a professional development training program for our students addressing the following topics: interviewing skills, communication skills, feedback mindset, time management, and personal branding.