University of Utah Students Help Businesses During Pandemic

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek June 4, 2020
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University of Utah student Rosario Bibiano was three months into her internship at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City when COVID‑19 brought things to an abrupt end. The pandemic closed down the museum and the city and chased the senior marketing student back home to Salt Lake City. Her career development plans needed to change, her mentor told her.

Bibiano received college credit for the internship, but the 22-year-old was desperate to find a paid position to take its place. Her college career coach helped her land a noncredit, but paying, internship at the World Trade Center Utah through the Hope Corps, a job program for students that the University of Utah created after the pandemic hit.

The corps is an offshoot of the university's Utah Health & Economic Recovery Outreach (HERO) program. Unlike HERO, which uses students to conduct random testing for COVID-19 infections and antibodies in four of the state's countries, the Hope Corps places students in temporary jobs with small businesses. The university created the corps when it realized students were losing their internships, or their internships were being delayed, said Ruchi Watson. She is an assistant dean at the university's David Eccles School of Business and oversees the Hope Corps.

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Coronavirus and COVID-19

It also was becoming apparent that small businesses were struggling during the pandemic, she noted. The corps pairs students with businesses that could benefit from the students' skills while allowing the students to gain work experience relevant to their studies.

"We know young people have a lot of passion and ingenuity they can put toward a cause … that's really impactful," Watson said. Small businesses are putting that student energy toward their marketing needs, such as graphic design, videography or assistance with virtual onboarding.

The corps partners with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Utah Community Builders and other groups to create a database of job and internship opportunities.

One Hope Corps project paired students with the owner of a brownie business who wanted to shift from walk-in sales to online sales of frozen brownie batter and needed a marketing plan. Several marketing students took on the project, guided by a campus expert.

"Most people are thrilled to find out that they can work with students, and I think the students are amazingly resilient and have a lot to offer," Watson said. Bibiano and another student are creating a campaign for the World Trade Center Utah to market its employer-needs assessment to business owners. "That's really going to be a great experience," Watson said.

The students are working remotely to create newsletters, social media posts and e-mail campaigns to encourage small-business owners to take a needs assessment to determine their business struggles during COVID-19 and to point them toward relevant resources.

Bibiano misses the social aspect of the workplace, noting that "each workplace has its own little community," but she acknowledged that the Hope Corps has helped many of her peers who would be without a job or internship. It has provided her with a position working 30 hours a week at $15 an hour, and the project she is working on is something she can add to her resume when she graduates in July.

A New Internship Model

Reimagine the internship model, Ruchi advised employers. Internships do not have to involve students being physically available in the workplace, but it is important that the mentor or supervisor communicates with the students, beginning with onboarding. Bibiano's 90-minute orientation with her employer included talking about what she wanted out of her experience—such as being able to use her marketing skills. She meets virtually with Ruchi three times per week.

For employers looking to create a similar internship program, it's important to find the right partner, Ruchi said. Hope Corps partners with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce; Utah Community Builders, which is a chamber foundation; local government entities and educational institutions; the Boyer Company real estate development firm; and the Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation.

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