As many students around the country had their summer internship plans put on hold because of COVID-19 and economic uncertainty, the University of Tennessee’s New York City Alumni Chapter quickly organized a virtual internship program for future communicators.
The VOLs Remote Internship pilot program paired five interns from CCI with social media and digital communication roles at nonprofit organizations dedicated to education.
CCI Board of Visitors member Jamie Lonie (PR ’10), who also serves as president of UT’s New York City Alumni Chapter, said the idea for a digital internship program was born at the October 2019 CCI Board of Visitors meeting and became even more meaningful as entire industries started relying heavily on remote work in March.
The new summer program was open to rising seniors and recent graduates with particular emphasis on recruiting first-generation college students and students from low-income communities.
“Depending on each student’s background, some may be more likely to have the means or networks to secure an internship in a big city like New York, Chicago, or D.C. whereas others might not have the same connections or resources in those places,” Lonie said. “Moreover, even when students secure internships in another city, there are cost implications to spending a few months there. Many students may also have commitments in the summer to their family or other jobs locally.”
“As most communications professionals shifted to online work, we saw remote social media work as a way to make internship opportunities more accessible and equitable for all students. They can still gain real-world work experience, even from home.”
The first class of interns included: Kyle Basila (Public Relations), Chazni Darden (Advertising), Tadezja Maxwell (Public Relations), Alana Peery (Advertising), and Josh Witt (Journalism and Electronic Media).
The internships lasted 8-10 weeks, during which participants learned how to create social media content in the voices of their organizations and gained experience using digital collaboration and social media management tools. Each student was provided a stipend, either through scholarship gifts from alumni and supporters or directly through the organizations.
Interns were each paired with young CCI alumni already working in communications and digital media. The mentors, all working in for-profit industries, provided concrete feedback on digital communications best practices along with career advice on navigating the industry. Alumni mentors included Jessica DiTommaso (CS ’14), Beau Cobb, Schahrzad Mehdia (BSBA ’16), Charlie Sells (BSBA ’10), and Abigail Ritch (CS ’13).
The program was also made possible with support from many other supportive CCI alumni and staff, including co-organizers Laura Gamo (MS/C&I ’18) and Taylor Presley (CS ’13) along with guidance from ADPR Professor Sally McMillan.
Lonie said the goal is to continue to grow the summer program to include more students and more majors. “It looks like the future of communications work will continue to happen online and often remotely,” he said, “so we want to expand this internship program next summer and give more students these opportunities.”
Meet the 2020 interns:
Social and Growth Intern, Understood
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Major: Public Relations (Plans to graduate in Spring ’21)
Founded in 2014, Understood is a nonprofit that assists people with thinking and learning differences to thrive by providing them with helpful digital resources and communities. The organization has also helped thousands of people with all types of disabilities succeed in school and find employment at inclusive companies.
Basila: “I feel like I learned the most about social media writing, and I’m a stronger copy writer now. On Facebook and Twitter, you don’t have space to throw paragraphs out there. I gained a good understanding about how to get a point across and make it engaging.”
Social Media Intern, Teach for America Houston
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee
Major: Advertising (Plans to graduate in Spring ’21)
Teach for America’s goal is to ensure that every child in the country has access to an excellent and equitable education. In an effort to expand opportunities for low-income students, Teach For America recruits people to commit at least two years to teaching in a public school. Darden specifically worked for the Teach for America Houston region.
Darden: “I learned to use Sprout Social, a useful tool keep track of what you’re posting and look at the results to know what’s working. Some of my posts were more engaging than others, so I took that audience feedback to figure out how to make future content work better.”
Social Media Intern, Comp-U-Dopt
Hometown: Lewisburg, Tennessee
Major: Public Relations (Plans to graduate in Fall ’20)
Comp-U-Dopt was founded in 2007 with the goal of ensuring every child has equal access to education and opportunities. The organization fills this need by providing home computers and digital training to students in low-income communities. In addition to opening job and educational prospects to students, Comp-U-Dopt also fulfills an environmental need by repurposing used hardware that would have likely ended up in landfills.
Maxwell: “Before the social media internship, I had never truly understood the analytical side of engagements and reach. I was able to use this performance data to create better posts. Also, I learned why understanding the language of an organization is most important. You can’t make great content if you don’t know the organization’s voice.”
Social Media Intern, Teach for All
Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee
Major: Advertising (Plans to graduate in Spring ’21)
Teach for All is a global education program whose goal is to develop leadership in communities to improve education and expand opportunities for children. Fellows at network partners around the world commit to at least two years of teaching in schools in areas of need. After her Teach for All internship, Peery accepted a new internship with BigWheel, a Knoxville-based creative agency.
Peery: “I learned so much thanks to my manager Daniela, the communications team at Teach for All, and my mentor Beau Cobb. Most importantly, I learned how to use what the organization wants to say and create content for them. Starting out, it was difficult for me to find out how to use the proper tone in my social posts, but over time, I learned how to find the client’s voice and use it in my content.”
Digital Marketing Intern, GBC-Education via Amplifi
Hometown: Knoxville, Tennessee
Major: Journalism and Electronic Media (’19)
The Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education) builds connections and cooperation between businesses, government agencies, foundations, and civil society organizations with a goal to ensure that every child has a great start to life, a safe place to learn, and skills for the future of work. Witt had previously interned as a writer with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which helped him translate complicated scientific material into writing that was easily understandable to the public.
Witt: “Getting to use a professional social media management product like Sprout Social was really helpful for me, especially learning to leverage the social listening features to monitor what our nonprofit audience was thinking and sharing.”