PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With the spring semester at its finale, students across the disciplines have finalized summer plans, and for many, this will include an internship or research position. It’s a smart idea. A recent Chronicle of Higher Education survey found that among employers in all industries, an internship was the single most important credential for recent college graduates to have on their resume. But in many instances, finding an internship can be not just challenging, but fiercely competitive.
Enter BrownConnect. Now in its second year, this Brown University CareerLAB initiative links students to an extensive network of Brown alumni, parents and friends. Through its online portal, students can search for internships and research opportunities that have been posted by University alumni and parents who have a specific interest in finding Brown students to fill positions. They can also access an alumni database, which can be sorted by filters such as job field and location, for the purposes of networking and learning more about their career interests.
“BrownConnect is a direct result of the Building on Distinction strategic plan, which called for increased opportunities for students to bridge theory and practice during their time at Brown,” said Aixa Kidd, director of BrownConnect. “President Paxson specifically noted a need for expanded access to summer internships and research experiences and a strengthened undergraduate internship and career advising network. These are all things that BrownConnect provides.”
The hallmarks of the portal are “Bruno Opportunities,” internships posted by Brown alumni or parents that fit at least one of several criteria giving Brown students preference in hiring. When BrownConnect was created, the goal was to have 250 Bruno Opportunities available when it launched in late 2014. Just a year and a half later, it now features more than 700.
For Julia Foote, a junior concentrating in environmental studies, BrownConnect proved invaluable in her search for summer experiences that matched her interests in both design and environmental sustainability.
“When I first started looking for an internship, I was blindly searching in different sectors,” she said. “It was overwhelming. And when they’re not actively looking for Brown students, a lot of organizations and companies don’t even get back to you. With BrownConnect, even if people didn’t want to interview me, they still got back to me. At least I knew where I stood.”
Using the portal, Foote secured a research-focused internship with the Green Schools Alliance, a global nonprofit that works with schools to help them meet environmental sustainability goals. She used it again to find an internship this summer working at Free Arts New York City, which provides art programs for children and families in underserved communities.
The Free Arts internship came through BrownConnect’s Careers in the Common Good Program, one of the initiative’s “Bruno Signature Programs” — internships created exclusively for Brown students. Other signature programs include the BEO (business entrepreneurship and organizations) internships in Hong Kong and the iProv Summer Internship Program at Providence-based nonprofits. For these internships students go to an orientation on campus before the summer and take part in alumni networking events during their experience.
Beyond providing an easier way to find, apply for and secure internships, a key element of BrownConnect’s mission is to provide students with the money they need to take advantage of low-paid or unpaid internships. In addition to funding provided for signature programs, BrownConnect also administrates LINK (Linking Internships and Knowledge) internship awards and UTRA (Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards) funding through the Dean of College office, and grants summer earnings waivers to students on financial aid.
“We wanted to level the playing field and give all students access to these experiences,” Kidd said. “They are not just career opportunities; they are part of a discovery process for each student. Some students may realize during their internship that this is not the right field for them. All students should be able to go through that important process without worrying about paying their bills.”
For Olivia Sykes, a sophomore concentrating in human health and biology, LINK funding made all the difference in her ability to take on an internship. Sykes, who receives financial aid at Brown, found an internship in New York City with the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center, a Bruno Opportunity posted by Brown alumna and parent Dr. Jane Martin, who runs the cognitive assessment center there. The internship will offer a unique opportunity for Sykes to pursue her passion for neuroscience in an applied setting — observing and helping to administer clinical trials with Alzheimer’s patients. She wouldn’t have been able to afford to live and work in New York City for the summer with the small stipend that the internship provided.
“As I was applying for this internship, I was aware that the stipend was very low, and that was a source of anxiety for me,” Sykes said. “So I ended up applying for the LINK. I was awarded a very generous amount of money, and that greatly relieved the pressure. It gave me a chance to do something that wouldn’t have normally been accessible.”
Underlying the internship and funding opportunities, Kidd said, is BrownConnect’s most valuable asset: the alumni and parent network that is supporting and helping to fund it. To date, more than $5.5 million has been awarded through the BrownConnect Internship Fund, which pays for LINK and UTRA awards and subsidizes the summer earnings waivers.
“It’s incredible to see the growth of BrownConnect,” she said. “And that’s due to this amazing support we have from people in our own community who really understand how important these experiences are for our students. They have also made themselves available in large numbers to students who have reached out to them for career advice and mentoring — both informally and at the many networking events that BrownConnect has hosted. And, of course, they continue to post high-quality opportunities for students in a multitude of career fields.”
For Martin, the doctor at Mount Sinai, finding interns through BrownConnect made a lot of sense.
“Brown students are smart, excited and engaged,” she said. “We are very happy to have this new relationship with Brown. We really feel a responsibility to mentor the next generation of great researchers and clinicians, and this connection has been really helpful in doing that.”