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Education

UTSA Receives $3M To Expand Internship, Research Opportunities For Students

San Antonio philanthropist Harvey Najim has committed to giving the University of Texas at San Antonio $3 million to help more students access internships and other hands-on experiences in their fields of study.

UTSA will use the donation to create the Harvey E. Najim Innovation and Career Advancement Center, which will connect students to businesses and community organizations interested in working with them.

Senior Vice-Provost of Academic Affairs Heather Shipley said the majority of the funding will be used to provide students with paychecks or scholarships while they participate in the program.

“Our students can now take on these types of experiences where maybe (before) they would have felt like they couldn't have had that opportunity, because they needed to work somewhere else,” said Shipley, who oversees UTSA’s Classroom to Career initiative.

Unpaid internships can be a major barrier for students who need to work while they go to school.

Shipley said a little more than one-third of UTSA’s undergrads currently participate in internships, research, study abroad or other types of experiential learning.

The goal of the Classroom to Career initiative is to insure that 75% of undergraduates participate in experiential learning by 2028.

UTSA senior Andrea Avilés is helping the university develop the center in a way that will be most helpful for students. She said she wished it had been around sooner.

“I know what it's like to be a college student just looking for opportunities and not having that much guidance. And so I think that this is a (super) opportunity for students to have, like, a good stepping stone,” Avilés said.

Avilés said she found an internship experience on her own while attending St. Mary’s University. She transferred to UTSA two years ago, and expects to graduate with a degree in public health in May. She said her internships and work experience have made her realize that she wants to work on the management side of the health industry.

“Every job that I've had, the common denominator between what I like is being able to help solve problems and help create things that will help the company in some way. So that's why, after all my internships and after exploring the world a little bit, I realized that I do want to focus in something related to management,” said Avilés, who is currently working as a leasing consultant at her apartment complex.

Shipley said the Innovation and Career Advancement Center will connect business and community partners with multidisciplinary teams of students to work on projects identified by the organizations.

“They may help a business create a business plan for something they're wanting to do. They may look at some new way that business wants to expand,” Shipley said. “They'll interact with these businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations in small teams and really gain those both hard and soft skills that we know employers want. And then also helpfully provide them a job opportunity to launch their career when they finish at UTSA.”

Shipley said the university plans to start with one or two multi-disciplinary teams this fall, and expand to five or more teams in the spring.