SECU Foundation, ECU join for small-town internship program

East Carolina University will use a $100,000 grant from the State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) Foundation to fund up to 20 summer internships for undergraduates interested in careers in leadership positions in rural North Carolina communities.

The SECU Public Service Fellowship is designed to provide sophomore and junior students with job experiences in small-town government agencies, non-profits and private businesses.

The aim of the pilot program is to help build capacity for underserved areas and to reduce the talent drain from the state’s rural communities, according to Dr. Marilyn Sheerer, an SECU Foundation board member and chair of its internship committee. Sheerer is a former provost at ECU.

“These hard-working students will be immersed in a hands-on learning experience that may stimulate an occupational interest and lead to a career in their home county,” Sheerer said. This program blends a traditional internship placement experience with a collaborative approach that draws on the expertise of the university and community partners, according to Dr. Sharon Paynter, interim director of public service and community relations at ECU.

“The program is designed to strengthen connections between the university and community by allowing students to explore public sector issues that challenge a community or the region at large,” Paynter said.

The interns will be placed in organizations that work on community-identified priorities. Students will explore community and economic development strategies, grant writing or project implementation involving skills ranging from graphic design to engineering.

The program will allow students to develop a better understanding of the collaborative nature of public sector issues that impact community sustainability and growth while strengthening core competencies gained through academic programs.

Communities that have worked with ECU through the Engagement Outreach Scholars Academy and the Talent Enhancement Capacity Building program are eligible for student interns.

Faculty members who are working on projects with those communities will select the interns, Paynter said.

The internships come with a $4,500 stipend. Students selected for the internships must be state residents, have completed at least 60 credit hours, and have a 3.0 cumulative GPA. This program is for undergraduate students only.

“In today’s competitive world, it’s important to provide students with opportunities that will help open doors for them to gain valuable work experience and a fresh perspective of the workings and challenges of rural government agencies and organizations,” said McKinley Wooten, chair of the SECU Foundation board. “Ultimately, their talents and skills can help make a positive impact in the economic future of North Carolina’s communities.”

SECU members via the SECU Foundation have provided funding for similar internship programs this summer at Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Wooten said that if the initial internship programs at ECU, ASU and UNC Pembroke are successful, the program could be expanded statewide.