As the workforce becomes more competitive, the importance of internship experience has grown exponentially. Employers are now looking for complete candidates with both real-world skills in addition to specific degrees and general knowledge. As a result, internships have become a cornerstone of modern education and career development. These opportunities bridge the gap between the classroom and a job application, allowing students to gain hands-on experience in their fields.
For individuals from underrepresented and underserved communities, internships can be especially transformative. However, not all internship opportunities are created equal or are easy to navigate. That is why programs like internXL, an internship platform that matches reputable companies with diverse internship candidates, are so essential. Ahead, we discuss internship inequities and internXL’s XL Academy.
Not All Internships Are Created Equal
Although internship experiences have become critical to students’ successes, finding and completing one is easier said than done. This is especially true for students from underrepresented communities.
A 2019 University of Wisconsin study found that 64% of students could not complete an internship even though they wanted to. Students cited several key reasons why they could not take on an internship, including that it did not accommodate their work schedules or was unpaid. When internships are unpaid, students who work to pay bills are unable to participate, which hinders their positioning and preparation for future opportunities.
Additionally, a 2019 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) revealed that underrepresented students, particularly Black Americans, are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to taking on an internship. One reason for this is the lack of generational wealth in the Black community. As a result of this disparity, Black college students are more likely to have more responsibilities in addition to their course load. According to a 2023 study from Lumina Foundation-Gallup, Black bachelor’s students are 36% more likely to have to act as a caregiver or full-time worker compared to 18% of other bachelor’s students.
What Is internXL?
The internXL program, which was developed with the help of Fund II Foundation in 2019, is a paid internship program that matches students from underrepresented communities with internship opportunities. Specifically, internXL serves sophomores, juniors, seniors and postgraduate students from underrepresented communities. To qualify, students must be studying a STEM or business-related major and have at least a 2.8 GPA.
In addition to its internship matching services, internXL offers free career training for students through its XL Academy. Specifically, the Academy offers soft skills training and enrichment resources, plus technical and certification courses. Additionally, students can access more than 1,300 online courses to help them gain new skills.
Robert F. Smith’s Internship Experience
Philanthropist and entrepreneur Robert F. Smith, the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners (Vista), is passionate about creating opportunities for those from underrepresented communities. Smith’s parents, two school teachers, taught him the value of education at an early age. While he was still in high school, Smith earned a prestigious internship opportunity at Bell Labs — a spot typically reserved for college students.
He continued to intern at Bell Labs during his summers home from studying at Cornell University. Smith credits his internship experience and the mentors he met there with helping him become who he is today.
“[My experiences with my mentors] taught me one of my most important life lessons – ‘discover the joy of figuring things out,’” said Smith. “There is great joy in solving problems, in aiming for constant and ongoing improvement – it’s core to an engineer’s mindset.”
To create similar opportunities for people from underserved communities, Smith works with internXL and Fund II Foundation as its founding director and President.