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Student Veterans Take on Summer Internships Thanks to OVMA Internship Award
Over the 2022 summer semester, eight student veterans at Syracuse University were able to take part in a time-honored college experience that typically eludes non-traditional students—they became interns. They were able to experience the firsthand benefit of an internship thanks in large part to the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs’ (OVMA) Undergraduate Internship Award. The OVMA established the award to eliminate barriers that often prevent student veterans from participating in summer internships and deprive them of one of the most lucrative opportunities for job placement after graduation.
The internship award is given on a needs-based determination and is intended to cover the cost of one internship credit hour, or cover the cost of travel and living expenses, or both, with an award cap of $5,000 per student. It is yet another initiative in the ongoing efforts to support student veterans at Syracuse University and successfully land them in the job market after graduation. The award is funded through the generosity of donors who have previously donated to the University’s Military-Veteran Legacy Fund.
“Student veterans have historically had to choose between enrolling full time over the summer or scramble to find a seasonal job that will cover their financial needs during the summer months,” says Jennifer Pluta, director of Veterans Career Services with the OVMA. “It’s hard to think about an internship if you’re worried about making ends meet. We knew we had to do something to give our student veterans a leg up in the job market so they could get their foot in the door. That’s why the OVMA launched the Undergraduate Internship Award in 2020.”
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the focus on hiring interns in the 2022-23 academic year will increase by 22.6%, meaning companies are reaching out to their current and former interns to fill the open positions within their organization. NACE’s 2022 Internship & Co-Op Survey Report also shows that 51% of students who participate in an internship will receive a job offer from the company they intern with, making it one of the most lucrative opportunities for a student to minimize the time between graduation and a job offer.
All students at Syracuse University can receive help to find and apply for internships in their chosen industry. Some of the schools make internships optional but offer course credit for completed internships. Other schools, like the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, require all undergraduate students to complete an internship. When schools make internships a degree requirement, it can be difficult for student veterans to fit the added responsibility into their schedule. Making matters worse, if the internship is one of the 40% of internships across the nation that are unpaid, the student veteran will pay out of pocket for all their expenses.
“The internship award program started in the midst of the COIVD-19 pandemic, so it sputtered the first year and took off in year two,” says Ron Novack, executive director of the OVMA. “We’re hoping this program grows and we can provide this opportunity to more of our student veterans, as well as continue to build partnerships with those companies that realize the incredible impact veterans bring to the workforce after their service to our country.”
This year, Syracuse University’s military-connected students accepted internships in a wide variety of industries and represent student veterans across the University’s colleges and schools. They assisted servicemembers and veterans aspiring to earn a degree through higher education, worked for government agencies supporting policy and legislative initiatives, and interned with an entertainment company broadcasting children’s programming. They also represent the largest cohort of student veterans to take advantage of the program since its inception.
Read more about each of the recipients below.
Janina Rios, Army National Guard Veteran
Rios, a senior at the College of Visual and Performing Arts, spent the summer on an internship with Nick Jr., a children’s entertainment channel, as part of Paramount’s ongoing initiative to recruit and hire veterans into their workforce, the Paramount Veterans Network. Rios previously served for seven years as a signal support systems specialist in the National Guard. She hopes to earn a degree in film and later start a film clinic for trauma victims, focusing on using art and film to help those victims on their road to healing.
“I am forever grateful to have received the internship award. The income allowed me to travel with peace of mind to Nick Jr.’s office in New York City for a hands-on experience,” says Rios. “The Nick Jr. team embraced me with open arms, toward the end of my internship I was able to secure a contract with Nick Jr. and the Paramount Veterans Network.”
Jose Baeza-Ruiz, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran
Jose Baeza-Ruiz is a junior in the Whitman School earning a B.S. in business analytics. Over the summer he interned with Starcom Worldwide in New York City where he had the opportunity to experience different facets of working for a client-facing team. At the end of his internship with Starcom, Baez-Ruiz was able to make a presentation to the team he worked with, recommending investment strategies for metaverse real estate opportunities for future projects.
“My time at Starcom re-energized me. The impact it had on my career goals heightened the enthusiasm I have to find a workplace where I am fulfilled personally and professionally,” says Baez-Ruiz.
Hakim Morris, U.S. Army Veteran
Morris, a sophomore studying international relations in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, served in the U.S. Army as a patriot launching station enhanced operator/maintainer for three years prior to enrolling at Syracuse. This summer he interned with the OVMA and credited a lot of his success to his military background and the Undergraduate Internship Award.
“My internship allowed me to broaden my horizons and be able to experience working in a professional setting,” says Morris. “The internship award allowed me to have ease from the financial hardship, I was able to completely focus on my professional requirements.”
Wyatt Bush, U.S. Air Force Veteran
Wyatt Bush is a junior in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. He is currently pursuing a degree in electrical engineering. As a recipient of the Undergraduate Internship Award, he spent his summer interning with National Grid in their transmission planning department.
“I had a great time interning with National Grid,” says Bush. “I learned a lot of valuable information about the power utility industry and the work that goes into supplying power across New York state. The internship award allowed me to make the commute daily to complete this internship, covering the extra expenses like fuel and food.”
Ryan Yon, U.S. Army Veteran
Ryan Yon is a senior dual-majoring in data analytics and policy studies in the iSchool and the Maxwell School. He served in the U.S. Army as a light-wheeled vehicle mechanic. He received the Undergraduate Internship Award and spent the summer interning with Deloitte, where he worked in government and public services on risk and financial advisory. He was able to spend four days at Deloitte University in West Lake, Texas, attending leadership workshops and bonding with other interns.
“Being a non-traditional student, I came here to get my degree. This award allowed me to assist with rent, food and other bills so that I could take the internship,” says Yon. “The internship gave me perspective into what it is like to work for a firm of [Deloitte’s] size. It also helped me reshape my plan to land a role that suits me and my skillsets.”
John Nipper, U.S. Navy Veteran
John Nipper is a graduate student in the Maxwell School enrolled in the dual-track program to earn a master’s degree in international relations and public administration. He was able to intern at the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration with the U.S. Department of State. He assisted the bureau by working with multilateral organizations building global partnerships and promoting best practices in humanitarian response.
“Through participation in the State Department’s Internship Pathways program, and with the help of the OVMA’s internship award, I was able to enhance my ability to scale impact through leadership and relationship-building,” says Nipper. “I am extremely grateful for the continued support the OVMA has shown, they really are the best place for veterans.”
Fred Wilkes III, U.S. Army Veteran
Fred Wilkes served as an explosive ordnance disposal technician in the U.S. Army for five years, now he’s a senior in the Newhouse School of Public Communications studying broadcast and digital journalism. He’s also minoring in sports management and over the summer interned for the New York State Golf Association as a communications intern.
“I wrote tournament recaps and press releases and conducted interviews of players. I also recorded and edited video,” Wilkes says, reflecting on the valuable hands-on experience he received over the summer. With the association located in Jamesville, New York, Wilkes primarily used the award to cover the financial gap between the academic school years.
Jennifer Aquino, U.S. Navy Veteran
Aquino, a senior studying linguistics in the College of Arts and Sciences, served for 14 years as a cryptology technician interpreter. Over the summer, she interned with the Warrior Scholar Project, a program that prepares veterans who choose to pursue higher education after their military service.
Aquino not only has to handle the courseload for her degree, but she’s also a mother of a small child which typically makes an internship all but impossible for most non-traditional students. “I was able to support my family during the internship, something that would have been extremely hard without it,” says Aquino.
For more information about the award, email Jennifer Pluta at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those interested in learning more about how to make an impact on the life of a student veteran by providing the financial means for an internship, visit the Veteran Legacy Fund webpage.