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Richmond Guarantee funds summer internships and research

<p>President Edward Ayers puts together the final piece of his Richmond Promise, the opportunity for all students to receive funding for summer research and internships. Photo courtesy of The University of Richmond News </p>

President Edward Ayers puts together the final piece of his Richmond Promise, the opportunity for all students to receive funding for summer research and internships. Photo courtesy of The University of Richmond News 

Applications to apply for funding for seven out of the eight programs under the UR Summer Fellowships are due Friday, March 20.

Last December, the University of Richmond newsroom announced the university would be able to grant up to $4,000 for a summer internship or research program to every student.

This unveiling came at the conclusion of the Campaign for Richmond, a campaign that raised money for all university endeavors including building projects, which successfully fundraised $164 million for the university, $19 million of which are being used to fund this guarantee.

Ashleigh Brock, associate director of experiential learning and assessment, works with two of the eight programs, the Spider Internship Funds and Spider Research Funds, that students can apply to for summer funding. Brock said the Richmond Guarantee was a “funding commitment on the part of the university.”

“I have spent the past month and a half visiting student organizations and admissions groups to talk about the Richmond Guarantee, and what I hear all the time is that Richmond has this new program,” Brock said. “And so the Richmond Guarantee isn’t a program, it is a funding commitment that undergirds our existing summer fellowship program.”

The Richmond Guarantee is related to the UR Summer Fellowships, but they are not the same thing, Brock said. The programs are the “mechanism” for accessing the guaranteed funds, she said. Applicants still must apply to one of these eight programs, and if they meet all the requirements, they are guaranteed funding, Brock said.

“I know the word ‘guarantee’ can be tricky, because it’s not a guaranteed internship, not a guaranteed research experience,” Brock said. “What the guarantee states is that the funding is available, we have enough funding for each Richmond student to have access to it, and then, from there, it is accessing the funding, and that happens through our existing UR Summer Fellowships Program.”

The existing fellowship program is called University of Richmond Summer Fellowships which includes eight different programs: Spider Internship Funds, Spider Research Funds, Arts and Sciences Summer Research Fellowship, Chaplaincy Summer Internships, Civic Fellowships, Jepson Summer Research Grants, Robert L. Burrus Jr. Fellowship and Urban Education Fellowships.

Brock said it was important for students to understand that the Richmond Guarantee was not a blank check from the university.

“But for many students who may not have been paying as much attention before, or who maybe hadn’t thought about an internship or research experience because they might not have been financially able to take one, this is going to be even more important than it was before,” Brock said.

Richmond is not the first school to offer funding for these kinds of experiences, but Richmond is the only school, that Brock knows of, to be making “this sort of commitment at this scale and scope,” Brock said.

“So I think that the Richmond Guarantee and the structure the UR Summer Fellowships provides for it really makes us stand out in higher education in our commitment to making sure students have access to experiential learning opportunities that will help them in their education and in their careers,” Brock said.

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Richmond President Edward Ayers said a strategic committee began laying the groundwork for the Richmond Guarantee in 2008. It served as the last piece of the Richmond Promise, which is Ayers’ vision for the university during his presidency.

“I think the vision I have is an education that is engaged with the world, and this is a way to jumpstart that,” Ayers said.

Summers account for a year and a half of a student’s college career, which is a substantial chunk of time that this guarantee will help students use to further their interests, Ayers said.

“The key word is ‘guarantee,’ but the fact is that students take the initiative. This is something that comes with coming to Richmond that you cannot get anywhere else,” Ayers said.

Career Services works with students to help find internship and research opportunities as well as editing cover letters and resumes. The guarantee will enable students to reach out to companies they would be interested in working for knowing they would have the finances to do so as well, Ayers said.

“One of the reasons that nobody has done anything at this scale is that it is very hard to put this many students in contact with that many potential allies,” Ayers said.

Senior Priscilla Chi interned at the Collegiate School in Richmond the summer after her sophomore year and received $3,500 from Richmond. She said she used the money for transportation to the internship because she did not have a car and put it into savings for her internship the summer after her junior year.

Chi said she would have taken the internship with or without the funding, but she recommended the program to other students at the time because having that extra money helps students take advantage of nonprofit internships, she said.

Her boss at the Collegiate School was particularly impressed with Richmond’s URSF program and worked with Chi to make sure her internship met all the requirements for this funding, Chi said. Her boss said the Collegiate School would be able to offer the internship to many more students if the students had the opportunity to make some money alongside their internships, Chi said.

Chi received her funding from the Spider Internship Fund, but each of the eight programs under URSF has different requirements and a program manager who reviews the applications, Brock said. Last summer, 40 percent of students awarded funding worked through the Arts and Sciences Summer Research Fund. The Spider Internship fund was the second most awarded program at 34 percent, followed by the Spider Research Fellowships at 19 percent, according to the UR Summer Fellowships website.

Brock said the Spider Internship Funds and Spider Research funds are supposed to be general programs for students who are looking into a variety of different experiences at any grade level.

Senior Chase Brightwell received $4,000 from the Spider Internship Fund the summer after his sophomore year for his unpaid internship with the World Pediatric Project.

“I didn’t come to college expecting that I could get an unpaid internship funded through my school, and when I found out that I could, it was really incredible,” Brightwell said. 

Brightwell came to Richmond as a journalism major, but discovered his interest in healthcare his sophomore year. He said the World Pediatric Project was a way to tie both his interests, in journalism and health care, as he helped run a communications campaign while doing patient advocacy work. He said this internship was “life-changing” and gave him the skills to work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta this past summer.

“I don’t think I would have got to go abroad where I wanted to go without working at WPP, so everything has been this path I’ve gone down, and WPP was one of the starting points of that and the experiences I gained there really set me on the journey that I am on today,” Brightwell said.

Brightwell said that, as a prospective student, he would have thought the Richmond Guarantee would have been a factor into his college decision.

“I think that the commitment this school has made to provide, through the guarantee, one experience like that to each and every student is so valuable, and I think given the size of both our enrollment being small and our endowment being big, it matches up really well with being able to fund these opportunities, at least one, for every student,” Brightwell said.

In order to be eligible for URSF funding, the student must be a full-time undergraduate who is returning to campus the semester after their summer experience. This excludes the current senior class, Brock said.

“You have to be returning to campus with all that great knowledge we have helped you in receiving in order to be eligible at a broad level,” Brock said.

URSF also looks at previous summer funding the student may have previously received and gives priority to students who have never been funded before. However, it is possible to receive funding for more than one summer depending on the application pool, Brock said.

URSF requires the student to complete 240-400 hours and a minimum of six weeks during the summer. This is to ensure the applicant has a “substantive experience,” Brock said. Funding is awarded based on the number of hours worked and the amount of pay.

Students are eligible for this funding if the opportunity is unpaid or paid less than $10 per hour. So a student could make minimum wage and would be awarded money that would boost their wage up to $10. Any student receiving this money will make $10 per hour regardless of how much the internship pays. Students may exceed 400 hours, but the university will not give more than $4,000 in funding. Students may also receive a stipend from their internship or research program which would then be factored into how much money the university will award that particular internship or program, Brock said.

Brock said the programs are still looking for quality applications, so students who submit sloppy, unfinished or unedited applications may not receive the funding.

“The funding is there, that’s what the Richmond Guarantee does is the funding is available, so it is up to the student to make sure they follow, clearly follow the directions, make sure they submit things by the deadline, you know those sorts of things,” Brock said. “And then the student also has to procure the opportunities. That is an important thing too.”

Students are eligible for this funding even if they do not have the internship by the application deadline. These students must have a thought-out plan for their summer and demonstrate how it would impact their academic or career goals. This may include having already submitted applications for internship and research experiences or interviewing for opportunities, Brock said.

She also said that when funds are awarded to students who have not yet attained one of these internships or experiences, URSF gives the student a contingent award and receives the rest of the award after the student and their supervisor signs a contract.

Students who change their mind about their specific internship and are accepted into another program are still eligible for the aid. It would be recalculated depending on the stipulations of the new program, Brock said.

Each program is different, but each requires the student to fulfill additional requirements once accepting funds from the Richmond Guarantee. The Spider Internship Fund requires the student to attend three virtual, professional webinars during the summer, to fill out an evaluation on their time there, to have their supervisor fill out an evaluation and complete a final project reflecting on their experience, Brock said.

Internship and research programs through third-party providers are ineligible to receive funding. Brock defined these providers as an organization not affiliated with the university that could be for profit or could be nonprofit, “that basically brokers opportunities on students’ behalf for a fee.”

This stipulation is in place for several reasons. First, the hour requirements are often set by these programs so Richmond students are unable to fit the time criteria. Many of these programs require the student to take a course alongside the internship or research program which Richmond discourages because this takes time away from the desired opportunity. These programs also usually cost anywhere from around $2,000 up to around $10,000 for a summer, Brock said.

“With UR Summer Fellowships Funding, we really want to give that funding to support a student versus giving it to pay a company for an experience,” Brock said.

There is a limited list of third-party providers that are accepted, but most of them are international programs. These programs include: “University of Richmond Australia, Germany, Ireland, London, South Africa and Spain Summer Internships; China Studies Institute; CIEE; Educational Services Abroad; the Hansard Scholars Programme; and IES,” according to the URSF website.

“In the U.S. we feel that we have a great internship broker on campus in career services and an extended way for students to get internship experiences through our alumni network,” Brock said.

There is an option for students wishing to receive funding for a program abroad that is not supported by URSF: the Weinstein grant for summer international projects. Such grants are merit-based and are awarded up to $3,500, according to the Office of International Education website.

URSF distributes funding in two different ways. Affiliated funding is for students working on the university’s payroll or with Richmond faculty, and this funding is distributed biweekly through that payroll. Unaffiliated funding goes toward students whose summer programs have no ties to the university. These students receive 80 percent of their funding at the beginning of the summer and the remaining 20 percent at the end of the summer when the student completes all the necessary tasks required by URSF, Brock said.

Last summer, 304 students were funded through URSF amounting to a little over $1 million from the university. Richmond now can provide funding for more than 600 students amounting to approximately $2.5 million in awards, Brock said.

Brock said her colleagues across the nation were stunned to hear how extensive Richmond’s summer funding is. In fact, as an alumna, she said URSF was one of the reasons she came back to the university, “because I really believe in our institution’s faith and commitment to making sure its students have the best experiences possible regardless of their financial circumstances.”

The Richmond Guarantee and URSF award money regardless of financial circumstances or financial aid.

“It is both an extension of financial aid, but it is also an extension of what the university has to offer for people who are not receiving financial aid,” Ayers said.

Brock said that, ultimately, she thought the Richmond Guarantee would allow students to accept opportunities that they may have otherwise had to turn down.

Contact reporter Ellie Potter at

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