When Pandemic Disrupted Career Opportunities, Darden Impact Internships Offered Meaningful Work
By Dave Hendrick
As the coronavirus pandemic upended life at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and the broader world last spring, it also dramatically reshaped the hiring landscape for internships and full-time job opportunities. New graduates saw start dates delayed or, in some cases, rescinded. Most internships were moved to a virtual, truncated format.
To step in and help fill the new gap created by the pandemic, Darden rallied to launch the Impact Internships program. The novel idea came together over the span of a few weeks through efforts led by Darden faculty and the Career Center, and made possible with funding from the Darden Annual Fund.
In total, 77 Darden students from across the Darden community — Executive MBAs, Master of Science in business analytics students, rising Second Year full-time MBA students and new graduates — took part in a paid Impact Internship. The internships offered students a choice between the Enterprise Consulting Trek, in which students tackled projects advancing Darden strategic priorities, and a Faculty Case Writing and Research Trek, in which the intern worked closely with Darden faculty on researching and writing cases.
Those participating in the Enterprise Consulting Trek worked on projects including transportation solutions; diversity, equity and inclusion efforts; alumni engagement; and operations in the era of COVID-19. In most cases, prominent Darden alumni with executive experience helped mentor students along the way.
Emma Finkelstein’s (Class of 2021) situation was representative of many of the First Year Impact Internship participants. Finkelstein, who came to Darden with a broad public policy background and is pursuing a dual Master of Public Policy with the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, threw herself into fall recruiting as a First Year and was looking forward to a summer spent with a major consulting firm. Then, the pandemic struck and her existing internship was dramatically truncated.
In short order, Finkelstein pivoted from a traditional internship to a project sponsored by Global Chief Diversity Officer Martin Davidson and Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Christie Julien to devise measurement and metrics around diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, benchmark Darden against peer institutions, and explore opportunities in the space.
“Instead of focusing on benchmarking Darden’s compositional diversity to the headcount of peer institutions, we reframed it to consider what a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment would look like in higher education, in business and in the world,” Finkelstein said. “And then zooming in from there, what are the indicators that would lead us to believe we are truly more diverse, equitable and inclusive, and what’s in the realm of possibility and feasibility for Darden.”
Finkelstein said the experience burnished her emerging consulting capabilities while helping her think critically about how to infuse equity and inclusion into the work she does and how she plans to lead.
Finkelstein said she still hopes to go into consulting after Darden, and treated the project like a consulting engagement, with Davidson and Julien as her clients. That meant shaping the problem statement, determining the scope of work and a reasonable project plan, and then holding herself accountable as a team of one and making progress against the plan through the duration of the summer.
“All of those core project management and client relationship skills that consultants need, I definitely still put those to work,” said Finkelstein, who will continue working on the project throughout the year. “It was great to have this option. I was scrambling, and Darden really came out to support its students. It’s also given me the opportunity to plug in and contribute to the Darden community in new and interesting ways.”
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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