Gaining internship experience is a critical component to prepare for a career path after graduation. Internships help students develop important skills, including time management, organization, adaptability, problem-solving and teamwork.
This type of work experience also helps students to network and gain technical knowledge within their field by learning from established professionals. Not only that, but studies have shown that students are more likely to get hired by companies for which they’ve previously interned.
Considering the many benefits that come from gaining internship experience, it’s essential that students from all socio-economic and racial backgrounds are provided with equal opportunities to jumpstart their careers.
For Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners (Vista) Robert F. Smith, fixing inequities in education and creating internship opportunities for students from underserved communities are key tenets of his philanthropic endeavors.
The Robert Frederick Smith Internship and Fellowship Program at the National Museum of African American History and Culture
In 2016, Smith made a personal donation of $20 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the largest donation made by an individual donor. Through his gift, the museum was able to establish the Robert F. Smith Explore Your Family History Center and the Robert Frederick Smith Internship and Fellowship Program.
The Robert Frederick Smith Internship and Fellowship Program provides individuals from traditionally underserved backgrounds with opportunities to gain experiences necessary for a successful career in museum studies. Each year, the Museum helps to create future museum studies professionals through paid internships on-site or at other related institutions that focus on the study and conservation of African American history.
Smith’s donation is also used to provide opportunities for museum studies graduates from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Through the Robert F. Smith Applied Public History Fellowship program, graduates are able to gain hands-on experience through a two-year posting at the Museum.
Smith on the Importance of Internships
As the son of two educators, Smith learned the importance of a quality education at a young age. Toward the end of his high school career, Smith started a collegiate-level internship at Bell Labs, to which he credits much of his success.
“It was an internship that actually changed my life,” Smith said in an interview. “When I was a high school student, I got an internship at a place called Bell Laboratories. And the world that that internship opened up for me actually changed the entire dynamic of not only me and my family, but the communities in which I live.”
Smith has also helped to establish other internship programs. Under Smith’s leadership as the founding director and President, he worked with the Fund II Foundation to establish internXL in 2019. internXL is a platform dedicated to pairing diverse internship candidates with paid internship opportunities at top companies. He also helped to create the Vista Frontier Fellows program to provide women, African American, Native American and Latinx college students with private equity work experience.
Smith’s efforts to create opportunities for young students and work professionals aren’t limited to internship and fellowship programs. In 2022, Smith made generous donations to his alma maters to establish undergraduate and graduate scholarship funds. He donated $10 million to Columbia Business School to create the Robert F. Smith ’94 Scholarship Fund. Smith also gifted $15 million to Cornell University’s College of Engineering to establish three funds.
Learn more about Smith’s upbringing, his career and how it has helped to shape his philanthropic efforts in an interview shared on YouTube.