Pereira O’Dell and CUNY Professor Team Up to Save Summer Internships

Both are encouraging New York agencies to hire students in some capacity

a gray sign that says save the internships new york
Professors can nominate star students to be featured with "Save the Internships." Save the Internships
Headshot of Minda Smiley

Internships have been on the chopping block as agencies grapple with the financial impact from the novel coronavirus, but a small group of leaders in the industry has come together to try and secure last-minute virtual opportunities for students who were relying on the experience and income this summer.

Called Save the Internships, the effort is essentially a website that features profiles of students who are advertising, public relations, marketing, design and communications majors from City University of New York’s (CUNY) colleges. Each student featured on the website has to be nominated by a professor. The hope is that agencies will use this site as a resource to find and hire interns in the coming weeks.

According to Rebecca Rivera, adjunct assistant professor at The City College of New York, many of these students work full-time or part-time and come from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the industry.

“My students are the ones who need these internships,” Rivera explained. “All of my students work while they’re in school. They’re paying for their tuition and helping put roofs over their families’ heads. Some of them are already working in the industry, and many of them lost the jobs that they’d had that were helping keep their families afloat.”

The idea for Save the Internships first came about when Mona Gonzalez, managing director at Pereira O’Dell (POD) New York, decided to press pause on internships when the crisis first hit. Rivera, who’d been working with Gonzalez to connect POD with students for internship opportunities, implored her to reconsider.

“It took a conversation with Rebecca for me to fully understand a few things, the first of which is that the students that she works with—specifically, students at public universities in New York—have been hit the hardest by the pandemic,” Gonzalez said. “They’re the very students that this industry has committed to and needs.”

Following their conversation, POD’s New York office committed to hiring two CUNY interns. Gonzalez and Rivera then decided to take things a step further by asking other agencies with a New York presence to consider bringing on an intern or two this summer in some capacity.

Agencies interested in becoming involved in the initiative do not have to host their intern(s) full-time. While agencies that participate must pay their interns in some capacity, Save the Internships is offering three different options to accommodate ones that cannot or have chosen not to proceed with traditional internships this summer.

The first is an “immersive” internship that will allow interns to work across multiple pieces of business and participate in internal discussions. The other two options are more scaled-back: one allows interns to work on a particular agency brief for the duration of the program, while the other lets students participate in ongoing 101 sessions held by senior leadership to learn more about the industry.

Agencies also have the option of coming up with their own spin on the program, as long as they are compensating the interns in some way. Rivera said all employers and students will be vetted before any placements officially occur.

“Our message to the agencies in New York is this: We understand the pressure agencies are under right now but don’t cancel internship programs, because they are much more important than you think,” Gonzalez said. “If you cannot do a traditional three-month program and it’s not financially doable, that’s OK. There’s nothing traditional about the situation right now.”

Rivera said these internships will at least give students a way to get their foot in the door and kickstart their careers, even if it’s in an unconventional manner.

“These internships are their way in,” she said. “It’s how they get the experience that makes them competitive and how they find the contacts that last them the rest of their career.”

In recent weeks, POD has drummed up support for the effort from a number of organizations in the industry, including the Ad Club of New York and the Growth Initiative, a “virtual agency program” founded by Keni Thacker. Last year, Thacker founded 100 Roses From Concrete, a network for men of color in advertising, marketing and public relations. The Ad Club of New York is promoting Save the Internships throughout its network, while the Growth Initiative is encouraging students to apply to an eight-week workshop that will give them the chance to develop campaigns and ideas for a nonprofit.

According to Gonzalez, the effort has already received initial interest from agencies. Both Gonzalez and Rivera said they hope it can expand beyond New York to other cities and schools.

“At the end of the day, we want every single student on that site placed, and hopefully more,” Gonzalez said. “We need to bring these voices into the industry, and we need them as much as they need us right now.”

@Minda_Smiley Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.