VBHEC president’s visit focuses on internships, work-based learning
Ideas for increasing internship opportunities and hands-on work experiences for Highlanders dominated the discussion when the president of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council (VBHEC) met with a group of Radford University students, educators and administrators on April 5.
Kirk Cox, a career educator and former speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, began serving as VBHEC’s president in July 2022. He initiated the meeting with Radford to learn more about the university’s initiatives, challenges and opportunities and to discuss how the Commonwealth of Virginia and its business community can assist higher education institutions to expand internships and additional work-based learning.
“Our goal,” Cox said of the VBHEC, “is to really ramp up paid internships, and we’ve been trying to do that in many different ways, and so today I want to hear your ideas and some of the barriers.”
Joining Cox at the hourlong internship roundtable discussion were Radford University President Bret Danilowicz; Vice President for Economic Development and Corporate Education and interim Vice President for Enrollment Management Angela Joyner; Executive Director of Government Relations Lisa Ghidotti; Department of Design Chair Holly Cline; Department of Biology interim Chair Christine Small; Professor of Finance Abhay Kaushik; Professor of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Susan Van Patten; and Career and Talent Development Center coach Nicole Ramsey. City of Radford Economic Development Director Kim Repass also joined the panel discussion.
Among the challenges the group discussed were the university’s rural location and the smattering of paid internships available. Students, many of whom are first-generation college students, are often forced to work in full- or part-time positions to support themselves, leaving little room for an unpaid internship or work-based learning experience. For the same reason, affording internship summer tuition can often be a barrier for students.
Speaking on behalf of the Artis College of Science and Technology, Small explained that many students with science-related majors work on research projects with faculty and some receive funding from faculty grants. “But there really is this challenge for students to balance the need for a job over the summer versus a potentially low-paid or unpaid internship experience,” she said.
The group also discussed re-imagining work study roles into positions that closer resemble work-based learning, and they delved into internships from the perspective of businesses and the types of students that companies and organizations look for when bringing aboard an individual for an opportunity. Some businesses, Joyner noted, seek out students early in their academic careers to teach them their company’s practices.
When seeking for interns, Repass said she looks for students with an excellent work ethic. “I want students who know what it takes to work hard and get the job done,” she said.
Cox’s first order of business when he arrived at Radford was a meeting with senior business administration major Dylan Armes of Dublin, Virginia. Armes completed a successful internship at Pulaski on Main and later was offered the position to be the organization’s full-time director.
Before leaving campus, Cox toured the Vinod Chachra IMPACT Lab inside Russell Hall to learn about the university’s online, self-paced competency-based education programs, which focus on teaching specific job-related skills in cybersecurity, geospatial intelligence, data science and K-12 education.
Cox also visited and spoke with students at the Venture Lab, a space in Kyle Hall for student entrepreneurs from any discipline to bridge ideas with product or service launch. The Venture Lab is designed to counsel students as they formalize, develop, and strengthen innovation efforts. This service is free of charge to students, and no equity is taken by Radford University.