To Intern or Not InternPosted Apr. 12, 2011
A new program within the College of Business Administration, funded by a $500,000 gift from alumnus Walter Van Benthuysen, ’61, makes such difficult choices much easier. It provides scholarships of up to $4,000 for students within the college who are pursuing unpaid internships.
“With a 45-minute commute and gas prices rising, this award could not come at a better time,” Gunther says. “Academically, the award allows me to focus more on what I am learning in the workplace, and I don’t have the burden of worrying about finances.”
More than 60 percent of the internships offered by employers through the College of Business Administration are unpaid, says Kristin Williams, business experience manager for the college. Because many students can’t afford to take such an internship, participation in the program was low — 58 students, or just 1 percent, in spring 2008. And that’s a significant problem, as internships are powerful résumé-builders that give recent graduates a leg up when applying for employment. The college’s near-term goal is to increase participation to 500 students per year by 2013.
The new Van Benthuysen Applied Business Experience Awards aid in that effort by eliminating financial barriers and attracting high-achieving students to the program. They’re merit-based scholarships for any student with an unpaid internship, with funds increasing for those working more hours. Students in full-time internships are offered $4,000 because they’re the most likely to be unable to work another job to support themselves during the semester.
“The program is established around merit first,” Williams says. “So the financial incentive is to provide opportunities for high-quality students with financial need. We’re not looking to pay simply because employers don’t, or can’t.”
Internships become career starters
Walter Van Benthuysen began working at the Campbell Soup Company following graduation and military service and had various marketing and management roles in the food industry for his entire career. As his career developed, he became chief executive officer for a number of food companies and upon retirement from day-to-day management responsibility became an executive adviser to Wind Point Partners, a private equity firm based in Chicago. He also serves on the board of Hearthside Food Solutions, a leading provider of granola and snack bars, cookies and crackers.
Along the way, he and his wife, Judy, founded American Friends of Our Armed Forces, a not-for-profit charity with the mission of meeting the needs of America’s military personnel and their families. And the pair also has supported Kent State, endowing the Walter and Judy Van Benthuysen Medallion Scholarship.
Throughout his career, Van Benthuysen has recognized the vital role of internships as career starters, which led to his most recent gift.
“I’ve had the opportunity in my career to be involved with young people coming out of school, including interns. I saw a real value to not just the intern, but the company and industry,” he says. “It seemed to me a gift of this size would help a person develop their business and personal skills. Internships help young people see the world as it is, which is helpful in building business solutions. And I think through this learning program, we can provide Kent State business students with a competitive advantage during their post-graduate employment interview process.”
Contribution serves as seed money
The Illinois-based businessman intends his gift, which will create dozens of Applied Business Experience Awards over the next five years, to be “seed money” — for both students and donors.
“It’s seed money for young people in that it gives them the chance to do something they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do,” he says. “And particularly the students at Kent State, who many have to work full-time to be able to attend the university, so it’s hard for them to give up whatever job they may have to go off on an internship. This solves that problem for them.”
But the lifelong entrepreneur also wants his contribution to create a spark for other donors.
“I hope this will inspire other graduates and other foundations to join the program, to add funds, so it will be a perpetual program,” he says. “I’ve funded it for five years, and I hope others, including employers, will see the value of it to keep it going into the future.”
Awards build dreams among recipients
The first students receiving Van Benthuysen Applied Business Experience Awards are interning with such businesses as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Via680, a technology startup in Youngstown.
This spring, graduate student Ajay Nepal is interning with Global ThinkTank Institute, a consulting firm in Stow, Ohio. After his first few months, he has high marks for the opportunities he’s been given to apply classroom skills to the workplace, as well as to network and build contacts with other professionals. But there was a time when he thought he might have to give it all up.
“Although I had started my internship before I received the award, I had doubts about my chances of continuing working since it was starting to cause some financial difficulties,” he says. “I bought a car just to get to the office, and other expenses like gas money were also piling up. This generous support has certainly helped me defray those costs. It has made me believe that there is support out there for students who try hard to pursue their dreams.”
This story originally appeared in the summer 2011 issue of the Kent State Magazine.