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Perspective | NC COVID-19 Student Response Corps: Partnerships at work

Lost internships and jobs.

Strained organizational capacity.

Due to COVID-19, both have been widespread in North Carolina, the nation, and the world.  Enter the North Carolina COVID-19 Student Response Corps, a partnership between state and local government, higher education, and nonprofit organizations. Since June 2020, the NC COVID-19 Student Response Corps has placed approximately 120 students in internships at over 100 North Carolina nonprofit and government entities.

 Guidance and a view of Governor Cooper’s cabinet during NC Secretary of Revenue Ron Penny’s presentation to Response Corps members. Courtesy of NC COVID-19 Student Response Corps

Caitlyn Newton, a student at NC State University, worked with the Beaufort County Economic Development Department. “My goal over the summer was to maintain the department’s social media sites,” she notes. “I also worked on website design and drafting a social media policy.” Newton’s efforts helped shine a light on businesses in the area that were affected by COVID-19 and increase awareness within the community of COVID-related challenges for businesses.

Like Newton, Patrick Hance, a UNC-Chapel Hill student, used his skills to make a positive impact on a community in need. Hance worked with Sustaining Essential and Rural Community Healthcare (SEARCH) providing Spanish language translation for U.S. Census recruitment efforts with rural Latinx populations. An undercount of Latinx North Carolinians would exacerbate the challenges they face by underproviding federal funding and political representation to their home counties. Hance proudly reflected on his entire team’s efforts, sharing that by the end of the summer, Yancey County had already exceeded its census self-response rate from 2010, an impressive feat during a pandemic.

Zaporia Council is yet another student who made a meaningful impact through participation in the NC COVID-19 Student Response Corps. Council interned at Community 1 Solutions as a business analyst and graphic designer, and helped create a website and secure funding for the new human services-focused organization. “To be able to help them while they’re starting from the ground up was amazing,” Council shared.

NC COVID-19 Response Corps students not only contributed to the organizations they joined, but also gained valuable insight from their internships. As part of the Response Corps effort, Lead for NC at the UNC School of Government and the NC Office of Strategic Partnerships designed a two-day virtual training and weekly speaker series featuring leaders from different sectors across NC. They covered job skills, such as professional communication and research, and provided foundational information about state and local government, the structure of nonprofit organizations, and some of the challenges and opportunities facing North Carolina.

Recognizing the potential benefits of these sessions beyond Response Corps members, the training and speaker series were open to participants in other programs. The trainings are now publicly available.

“Fifty-five years ago I was … in a public service internship working with the [state] Department of Agriculture [as an] economics major at North Carolina A&T,” shared NC Secretary of Revenue Ronald Penny, one of the featured leaders in the Student Response Corps speaker series. Penny describes the impact of his first experience in the public sector and a lesson he learned while serving in former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt’s cabinet: “You will never have jobs that will allow you to touch more people, to make North Carolina a better place, and that will also make you better [than in public service].”

This lesson resonated with the Response Corps students. Most respondents to the post-program survey agreed that the Response Corps experience made them more likely to consider a career in public service and in North Carolina. Students also noted that the program taught them about the diverse pathways to careers in public service and gave them a greater understanding of North Carolina’s government institutions. Every student who responded to the survey agreed that they were more likely to recommend public service internships to their peers as a result of the Response Corps experience. This is a powerful testament for the program given the challenges of recruiting and retaining young, diverse talent to the public sector. 

The North Carolina COVID-19 Student Response Corps demonstrates the power of government partnerships with other sectors. The program simultaneously provided organizations with needed support, reduced the burden on career services professionals at colleges and universities, provided students work experience, strengthened the state’s talent pipeline, and increased the capacity of programs that support North Carolinians.

Learn more about the NC COVID-19 Student Response Corps. Partners in the effort include the NC Office of Strategic Partnerships, the UNC School of Government/Lead for NC, the Office of the Governor, Hometown Strong, the NC Association of County Commissioners, NC League of Municipalities, the Rural Center, numerous institutions of higher education, and local government and nonprofit organizations from across North Carolina.

Liam Miranda

Liam Miranda is a graduate intern with the NC Office of Strategic Partnerships.

Dylan Russell

Dylan Russell is the executive director of Lead for North Carolina at the UNC School of Government and a co-founder of Lead for America. Lead for North Carolina has placed 28 students in high-impact fellowships in local government across the state.