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When the coronavirus reached America a year ago, it upended everything about how we live and work. For college students, it meant a quick shift to online classes and shuttered residence halls. It meant virtual commencements and canceled plans.

For many students, it also meant canceled internship opportunities. And that was a bigger problem than you might realize.

Internships can play as critical a role in a student’s educational and career success as their academic coursework, providing crucial opportunities to learn by doing and gain professional experience.

Perhaps even more importantly — especially for students from historically underrepresented groups — internships help build professional networks that can support them throughout their careers.

In addition, students overwhelmingly report that internships help them focus their career goals, national research shows. Paying internships often provide much-needed income that helps make college possible.

Targeted internships are a solution that can be replicated by colleges and universities across the country, anywhere nonprofits need workers and community-focused donors can support their efforts.

Losing out on internships, in other words, didn’t mean simply losing out on yet another opportunity in a year filled with dashed plans. For many students, it also meant losing out on learning, losing out on career advantages and even losing out on the ability to pay for college.

Just as students began losing their internship opportunities during the pandemic, nonprofit organizations began facing daunting demands. With millions of Americans thrust out of work, and state and local budgets strapped, the need for social services skyrocketed. Funding sources dried up just as needs ramped up.

At a certain point in the pandemic, students needed internships and exposure to possible career paths. And nonprofits needed workers. These simple, immediate needs were the genesis for Pace University’s New York Resilience Internships (originally called New York Recovery Internships).

Related: Some colleges and universities are bringing the classroom to the workplace

This targeted internship program makes connections to place students in internships with nonprofit organizations that are helping communities find relief and begin to rebuild amid the pandemic. The interns gain crucial work experience, and the organizations get invaluable assistance.

By working with philanthropic partners, including the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), to fund the internships, the program has been able to guarantee stipends for the students at no cost to the organizations they serve.

Targeted internships are a solution that can be replicated by colleges and universities across the country, anywhere nonprofits need workers and community-focused donors can support their efforts.

Pace, located in New York City and Westchester County, and SNF were ideal partners because this type of program addresses longstanding priorities for both of our organizations.

Pace seeks to prepare its students, many of whom are from low-income families or are the first in their families to attend college, for career success via a combination of academic instruction and hands-on experience. SNF believes in expanding the impact of its philanthropy with a multiplier effect: Students working in funded internships help to support resource-strapped New York nonprofits.

Last summer, the New York Resilience Internships program placed 65 Pace students in roles with about two dozen nonprofit organizations, several of them also already supported by SNF. The program will return full force for summer 2021, and we plan to continue and expand it into the future.

A few examples of how the partnership worked: Pace junior Ashley Bedoya interned last summer for South Bronx United, a youth-development nonprofit that uses soccer to engage immigrant and first-generation students.

Athena Greschler, who earned a bachelor’s in May and is now pursuing a master’s degree at Pace, interned for Ronald McDonald House New York.

Arun Yegnaseshan, who is working on a master’s degree in information systems, put his knowledge to work as a data analytics intern at GrowNYC, the organization behind the city’s greenmarkets and a key provider of fresh produce to food pantries and homeless shelters across New York City.

Internships with community organizations provide students with exposure to this important sector, sparking the potential for rewarding relationships that can become employment opportunities or ongoing volunteer efforts after graduation.

Targeted internship programs are a way that colleges and universities, philanthropic supporters and social service organizations can band together, leverage their resources and produce good outcomes for all their constituents.

Marvin Krislov is president of Pace University. Stelios Vassilakis is the chief programs and strategic initiatives officer at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

This story about targeted internships was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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