Internship Pipeline Lessens Equity Gap
New Community College STEM Internship Initiative expands paid opportunities for BHCC students
As Massachusetts employers seek to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, labor market experts predict a shortage of skilled employees needed for these companies to grow and succeed. BHCC’s Learn and Earn initiative connects students—many of whom are low-income and people of color—with paid internship opportunities at Greater Boston’s top corporations, small businesses, and nonprofit and civic organizations. The initiative is designed to meet supply and demand needs by offering students hands-on experience and the opportunity to grow their careers while also supporting companies’ equity goals and diversifying the work force in growing industries.
According to the 2019 Uncovering Hidden Talent report from The Boston Foundation, many Massachusetts employers, especially those in STEM industries, report difficulty in hiring skilled workers to fill open positions. Community colleges can help by partnering with employers to offer work-based learning opportunities and internships to close the gap, and support its students in getting their foot in the door.
Community college students remain vastly underrepresented in STEM internships, often getting less than 10 percent of internships matched through the Massachusetts Life Science Center, Clean Energy Center and Mass Tech Collaborative. These programs provide resources and support to stimulate STEM internships and employment opportunities in Massachusetts. While state universities receive $1M annually from the Massachusetts state legislature to support internships, no equivalent funding is earmarked for community colleges.
The Boston Foundation launched a new Community College STEM Internship Initiative in 2021 awarding grants to four local community colleges, including BHCC. The funding, which spans 18 months through the 2021-2022 academic year, will support expansion of existing STEM internship initiatives at the College and provide seed money for new STEM internship opportunities. Through this new initiative, The Boston Foundation aims to connect community college students with better internship opportunities and focuses on removing the barriers community college students find in pursuing internships in STEM.
Unlike traditional four-year college students, BHCC students, like many community college students, work in addition to taking their classes. Though many BHCC students bring prior work experience and cultural wealth to their internship hosts, students may not have reliable transportation options to pursue internship opportunities, have families to support, or lack the time or financial means to take on unpaid internships— even if the role could lead to employment after graduation.
Since 2012, BHCC’s Learn and Earn program has provided paid internship opportunities to BHCC students across a variety of industries. The program has expanded to include more than 50 employer partners ranging from nonprofit, civic and cultural organizations such as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Strong Women in Action, and All In Energy, to corporate partners such as State Street, Vertex Pharmaceuticals and HubSpot.
Learn and Earn interns are paid at least $18 an hour and provided a travel stipend ranging from $200-$650. While employer-paid compensation is the preferred option, many small businesses, nonprofits, and civic organizations are unable to pay their interns the minimum wage required for the program. BHCC employs a cost-sharing model to supplement wages by securing private funding. The model has allowed BHCC to expand Learn and Earn internship opportunities to these employers, and with The Boston Foundation grant funding, will allow BHCC to expand STEM internship opportunities for students regardless of the employer’s ability to compensate interns.
In nearly 10 years of offering Learn and Earn internships, BHCC has learned first-hand the necessity of engaging employer partners in the mission of the program and building trusting relationships. Faculty play a critical role in developing meaningful internship experiences and curricula, and bring industry expertise and established relationships to the program. As part of The Boston Foundation’s new initiative, BHCC will appoint three faculty liaisons representing the Science, Engineering, and Computer Science Departments to support onboarding of new partners, alignment of required skills to BHCC curriculum, review student resumes for technical content based on their areas of expertise, and student recruitment. Liaisons will also work with faculty in their academic division to introduce new and revised curricula for internship courses, and expand capstone and bridge course offerings.
The Boston Foundation initiative will enable all four colleges that received funding to bring an intentional focus to ensuring equity in internship opportunities. BHCC has already revised its employer orientation program to reflect the equity and cultural wealth framework. The program demonstrates to employers the many cultural assets BHCC student interns bring to their organizations as well as guides them on how to offer effective and equitable support to student interns.
Over the 18 months of funding, BHCC will engage the College’s Institutional Research to make equitable internship opportunities a high-impact institutional priority by collecting and analyzing data on STEM internship participation, disaggregated by race, gender and STEM field, and continually counteracting equity gaps. This work will inform future practice and ensure students typically underrepresented in STEM fields have access to internship opportunities.