Climate advisory - Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success

Dec. 1, 2021

by Virginia Palencia, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success


Climate Advisory #CA-2021-6 is based on Climatext data collected on November 12 and 13, 2021 from a representative sample of VCU students. VCU students responded to the prompt "How do you feel about VCU's efforts to make internships available to students?" A total of 161 students, or 15.3% of the total sampling population, responded within a 48-hour period. We surmise the low response rates were due to a lack of applicability or relevance to the majority of respondents. There were two limitations of note. First, this sample was not fully representative as there were no Hispanic/Latinx respondents to the question. And secondly, while we provide an analysis of responses by major, the number of respondents for individual majors were small. 

Student sentiment scores range from -1.00 (negative) to +1.00 (positive); and these scores are presented below in the summary of findings. VCU senior administrators, deans and chairs are asked to consider these findings in university affordances provided to students, especially on-campus residents, during this period of time.

Overall, student responses indicated a positive sentiment score (.42) regarding internships and opportunities. The vast majority (74.5%) of respondents indicated a positive sentiment score, followed by 16.1% expressing relatively neutral sentiment. A minority of students (9.3%) expressed a negative sentiment score. 

The most typical positive responses (74.5%) centered on believing VCU was doing a good job of providing internships, as well as communicating those opportunities to students. Other students expressed the importance of internships, both for student experience and careers. Neutral student responses (16.1%) generally indicated concerns that internships were more readily available in some disciplines than others. Students also offered suggestions for improvement, such as asking VCU to provide greater research opportunities for undergraduates. Those suggestions will be provided below.

Negative student responses (9.3%) indicated a lack of awareness of internship opportunities, having difficulty obtaining an internship or negative experiences with communication platforms (i.e. Handshake).

  • Gender. VCU women (73.2%) seemed more likely to respond to this prompt than VCU men (25.4%). VCU women (.46) indicated a more positive sentiment score than men (.29). 
  • Age. The majority (59%) of respondents were in their 20’s. This group expressed the least satisfaction (.39) with internship opportunities. Students in their teens (24.8%) seemed most likely to express positivity out of all age groups (.52). 16.1% of respondents were in their 30’s or above and had an average sentiment of .43.
  • Race/Ethnicity. Black/African American students (.52) appeared to have more favorable sentiment than Asian/Asian American (.45), and White (.38) students. There were no Hispanic/Latinx student respondents.
  • Student Classification. Sophomores (.52) seemed to have slightly more favorable sentiment compared to freshmen (.47), juniors (.43) and seniors (.35). Graduate students had an average sentiment score of .44. 
  • Pell-Eligible & First Generation. Pell-eligible students (.44) were slightly more positive in their overall sentiments than other students (.40). First-generation (.47) students appeared more positive than non-first generation (.40) students .
  • Major. Of the students who reported their major, Biology students (.45) were most responsive, followed by Psychology (.23), Social Work (.36), English (.43), Art Foundations (.63), Mass communications (.72) and Biomedical Engineering (.43).  

With regard to subgroups, several differences emerged. Seniors seemed to have the least positive sentiment out of other classifications. This is worth noting, as this indicates some experience with internship opportunities at VCU compared to underclassmen. The most positive groups appeared to be: sophomores (.47) and freshmen (.52), Pell-eligible (.42), First-generation (.47), Black/African American students (.52) and women (.46). Finally, there were differences in sentiment depending on the major. Psychology students appeared to have lower sentiment (.23) than Mass Communications (.72). This may point to differences in the availability of internships within certain disciplines.

Student responses were characterized along five themes. Three of these themes indicate sentiment: Abundant Opportunities, Excellent Communication, and Difficulty Obtaining Internships. Two additional themes are provided: Suggestions for Improvement and Concerns about Pay Equity.  Below, examples of each theme are provided.

Abundant Opportunities 

  • Internships are the most important thing in a person's college experience. Very important! (Female, 20, Black/African American, senior, MAC)
  • It's great! I have an internship that I found advertised via Handshake to VCU students and the things I have learned and the connections I have made are invaluable for my future in the career field. (Female, 21, White, senior, CSC)
  • The outreach from alumni has been tremendous. VCU working with businesses in the area and across Richmond has allowed some of my close friends to receive internships they would have never heard about without VCU and Alumni working together. (Male, 23, White, junior, CHE)
  • They do an amazing job with providing internships. Especially within the Department of Gerontology. They took the time to find something that worked with my work schedule and provided plenty of support throughout my entire internship. (Female, 33, Black/African American, graduate, DHG)
  • From what I've seen the university has put a large emphasis on real world experience when it comes to internships. I know that by the time I'm an upperclassman I will have a great resource to turn to when looking for internships. (Male, 18, White, sophomore, POS)
  • I think they've been doing a good job. (Male, 22, Asian/Asian American)
  • I think VCU is doing a pretty decent job at making internships available.  I got one! (Male, 45, White, graduate, RMH)
  • VCU does a great job of making internships available if students actively seek them out. However, students who are passive receive very little support. (Male, 21, White, senior, BIO)
  • I feel like they are available to anyone who is willing to put some time in trying to find them. (Male, 20, White, senior, BIO) 

Excellent Communication

  • I think they are good. I get emails all the time about internships and I think it's really helpful. (Female, 19, Black/African American)
  • I think VCU does a good job of putting out emails and newsletters in regards to opportunities for all students. (Female, 18, Asian/Asian American, sophomore, BIO)
  • I think it's great! As a Poli sci major, I get emails for internships every two weeks. (Female, 20, Black/African American)
  • As a student in the social work program, the school of social work was very communicative in their efforts to place bsw seniors in internships this semester. (Male, 20, Multiracial, senior, SLW)
  • VCU does a great job notifying students of opportunities, making those available on Handshake, and providing seminars to meet with employers (even during COVID). (Female, 22, White, senior, MCE)
  • There is a constant flow of emails and internship promotions. It makes me feel as though there are plentiful opportunities for students to intern and gain traction in their career. (Female, 19, White, sophomore, CSC)
  • I feel like VCU does a fine job marketing internships and always has tons of employers visiting the campus. VCU has a great career fair as well which helped me score my first internship. (Male, 34, White)
  • VCU does a great job in displaying a lot of internships to students through various ways: campus events, emails, and Handshake! (Female, 17, Asian/Asian-American, sophomore, BIO)

Difficulty in Certain Disciplines 

  • I feel like internships are difficult to find, particularly in the (visual) arts. Handshake doesn't seem to have many opportunities for me. (Female, 19, White)
  • I think VCU could do a better job with offering internships especially for graduate students. (Female, 25, Black/African-American, graduate, BUS)
  • I wish they provided more information on internships for those in education and future teachers. (Female, 19, White) 
  • I feel they do okay with putting stuff on Handshake but the emails could be formatted better to see the opportunities available. Also wish there were more opportunities for people in my field. (Female, 18, Black/African-American)
  • It was so hard to find an internship because covid took them away. I was under extreme stress but I got lucky eventually. (Female, 23, Black/African-American, senior, PSY)
  • I would like to see more internal opportunities offered, beyond the traditional student worker positions. (Female, 22, Asian/Asian-American) 
  • I think that vcu has a good amount of internships, but it's very hard to see them. I feel like the availability of them are difficult to get. (Female, 18, White, freshman, BFO)
  • It could be way better, I feel as if most of them could be showcased more. (Male, 20, Black/African-American, junior, HPX)

Suggestions for Improvement 

  • I think overall VCU is doing a good job connecting students with internship opportunities. I would love to see a greater push for undergrad students to be involved with research experiences on the medical campus, though. (Female, 29, White) 
  • I wish they would have more internship fairs. From the resources that do exist, it is pretty good. (Female, 20, Asian/Asian-American, junior, ISY) 
  • There is always room for improvement. Need more networking opportunities and research funding. (Female, 27, Asian/Asian-American, medical)
  • Good but could be better in the realm of screening the companies to make sure they're legitimate work that will actually respond to student applications. (Female, 22, White, senior, KII) 
  • How is VCU helping students get internships? I think you could improve follow ups with students and make sure that what gets posted on handshake actually gets reviewed and receives answers. (Female, 35, White)
  • It's nice.  Sometimes it's hard to get access to the perfect one.  I would suggest that they have recruiters coordinate with teachers and visit students in class. (Female, 22, Black/African-American, senior, MAC)

Concerns about Pay Equity 

  • I think it's a great idea but a competitive hourly rate needs to be paid if students are actually performing work. (Female, 58, White)
  • I think it could be better. A lot of the internships are taking advantage of the students regarding the amount of work on top of the course load. It's a stressful experience without any compensation outside of 'experience'. (Male, 24, White, graduate, PAD)
  • I think that it's hard to get research positions without experience , especially positions that are paid work studies. I think the programs that are put in place are helping for getting volunteer positions but not for the ones that are paid. (Female, 20, Black/African-American, junior, BIO) 
  • Internships are crucial for students to learning their craft and testing their future careers. Of course PAID internships are the best because no labor should be free. (Female, 31, White, graduate, ENG)

Summary Recommendations: 

  • Evaluate satisfaction with internship opportunities  and communication within individual schools so schools can gauge sentiment from their own student groups and take appropriate action regarding internships.
  • Clearly communicate the various pathways for students to receive notifications about internship opportunities (i.e. Handshake, email) 
  • Increase access to internships in certain disciplines, such as the arts, education, and graduate work.
  • Provide more opportunities for undergraduate research experience and networking opportunities.

About Climatext. VCU’s Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success (IES) administers Climatext as part of the university’s proactive monitoring and response plan to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Climatext assesses student sentiment resulting from their information exposure and experiences related to COVID-19. Sentiment scores range from negative-to neutral (-1.00 to 0.00) and from neutral-to-positive (0.00 to +1.00). Climatext produces a real-time data summary for the general student population as well as student subpopulations. Data are collected and coded using proprietary software conceptualized and developed by Sam Yerkes, Jim Yucha, and Aashir Nasim. Results are used to inform the university’s strategic communications efforts and support services that address student needs.