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Enhancing education with hands-on training

This series on internships is sponsored by the SECU Foundation.

Enhancing education with hands-on training is one of the best ways for students to connect theory to practice and prepare for a career beyond the classroom. Internships provide a path to gain valuable work experience; however, most are offered without compensation, especially in nonprofit and public sector areas where resources aren’t readily available. With so many students relying on summer income for living expenses, most are unable to pursue these internships despite the potential benefits that could be gained with their declared majors or fields of interest. Recognizing the value and the growing need for paid undergraduate internships, State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) Foundation focused its efforts on filling the gaps.

Since 2004, SECU members who fund the Foundation have committed nearly $57 million in scholarships.

Education is a core focus of SECU Foundation and since receiving its charter in 2004, SECU members who fund the Foundation have committed nearly $57 million in scholarships to help North Carolina students further their education through the state’s community college and university system. In continuation of those ongoing efforts, the Foundation Board unanimously voted to address the educational and economic need for paid internships, announcing its first investment in 2013 — the SECU Public Service Internship program. This initiative, launched in conjunction with the NC Rural Center, helped 47 rising college sophomores and juniors explore potential careers in their home counties, fostering community involvement and a new generation of rural civic leaders.

Building on that initial internship success and the tenets of the well-established scholarship program, SECU Foundation further cultivated its partnership with North Carolina System universities by inviting Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, and the University of North Carolina-Pembroke to participate in a new pilot internship program in the summer of 2015. All three universities accepted the invitation and were each awarded a grant in support of paid internships for 20 qualifying in-state undergraduates. The success of the pilot was quickly realized, leading SECU Foundation to establish the SECU Public Fellows Internship program, which now expands to nine university partners, adding Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, North Carolina A&T State, UNC-Wilmington, Western Carolina and Winston-Salem State.

Administered by each university, the SECU Public Fellows Internship is providing meaningful job experiences through assignments focused on local leadership in our state’s rural communities, while also meeting the objectives of building capacity for and reducing the talent drain from North Carolina’s underserved areas. Matched by their skills and interests, interns are working with government agencies, nonprofits, and other businesses in areas such as healthcare, technology, social services, education and marketing. As a state educator and SECU member, I am pleased to see the engagement of our Fellows as they immerse themselves in hands-on learning experiences in their occupational fields of interest. This program is a great educational driver, opening doors for students to use their talents and skills to make a positive impact in the economic future of our local communities.

Janae Brown was a SECU Foundation Public Fellows intern at East Carolina University in 2015 and was hired in the school’s the Office of Community Engagement and Research. Photo Credit: Katy Clune

Thus far, SECU Foundation has made a cumulative investment of $2.3 million for paid internships. We are happy to work with EducationNC to highlight the successes of partnering North Carolina System universities, bringing a greater awareness to the benefits of the investment for our students and our state. The hope is that others will see the positive economic and educational impact of such programs and embrace the opportunity to open more doors to further a mission that is truly worthy.

Here is more information about SECU Foundation.

You can follow secu_foundation on Instagram.

Dr. Marilyn Sheerer

Appointed to the SECU Foundation Board of Directors in 2012, Dr. Marilyn Sheerer is the former Provost of East Carolina University (ECU) and current Provost at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.