Design substitutes internships with mentor experience

Professional mentors compare notes with Dr. Holly Cline (upper left) prior to the final meeting of the newly created mentorship course

For many students in higher education, summer is the time when they go off to seek internships and gain experience that will count as progress toward their educational program. However, this summer has introduced new challenges as the coronavirus continues to disrupt normal work practices, including the cancellation of many summer internship programs for businesses across the country. The College of Visual and Performing Arts’ Department of Design requires students in its programs to complete internships in order to graduate. As internships suddenly became challenging to obtain, the program’s chair, Dr. Holly Cline, had to get creative to find a way to offer credit that would remain relevant to students’ professional development. Cline created a one-credit mentorship class where students would interact with a team of working professionals to learn about working within their respective professions as well as do a bit of networking, much like what would occur in a company internship.

The class was organized into three groups, with each group containing four to five students and three to four professional mentors who would engage them with topics of working in the field, practicing job interviews, improve resumes, and other ways of preparing to enter a changing workforce landscape.

Mentors were a mix of program alumna and working professionals, and their expertise ranged from interior design, design management, fashion design and fashion merchandising. Student groups met with their mentor groups twice each week during the summer session to cover a variety of topics depending on the collective career goals of students. “We tailored it based on what the students were asking for and what our backgrounds were,” said alumna MaryAnn C. Wilmot, who was one of the mentors for interior design students.

The group held its final meeting on Monday June 22, 2020, to reflect on what they had learned and how students intended to go forward with their career plans. The meeting was held via Zoom and participants logged in from as far away as Alaska, with one student even attending surfside from Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. The group was also joined by Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill, who took time to ask the students questions and learn more about what they had been up to during the summer session.  

Student reactions were universally positive about the experience. Fashion design major Morgan Gray said that she really appreciated having access to her mentors. Gray had an internship lined up for summer that was postponed due to the coronavirus, and her mentor provided good advice on how to stay in touch with the company without appearing pushy or overbearing. Interior design major Julia Mingione said that she valued how her mentors helped her learn to present and market herself to prospective employers. Kat Walters, a design management student in the course, said that “one of the things I learned was to not be afraid to ask for help.”

President Hemphill thanked the mentors for their willingness to contribute to the class. “It all takes time, but it is time well-spent when I think about how our students benefit from it,” he said to the group.

Cline developed the course quickly as a way to keep students on track toward their graduation goals, and it appears that the experiment was a success. While future work patterns remain uncertain as the coronavirus continues to disrupt society, the Department of Design has found an innovative new way to adapt and provide students with a meaningful experience toward their professional growth and development.

“I want to personally thank all of the mentors who participated in this experiment,” said Cline. “Their willingness to offer their expertise and advise is deeply appreciated and provided an invaluable experience for our students.”

Mentors who donated their time and expertise to the students were: Saja Al Weshahi, Andrea Alaownis, Ebonee Bachman, Jaimi Evans, Felicia Hunter, Teresa Ko, Dana Nunn, Craig Stargardt, Betsy Tuma, and MaryAnn Wilmot.

Jun 25, 2020
Jason Hutchens, Ed.D.