Minority female college students will have the opportunity to intern with leading Arkansas companies in 2021 through a new program launched by the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas (WFA).
In 2020, the WFA is launching the inaugural Tjuana Byrd Summer Internship Program, which aims to provide a 10-week summer internship experience for women of color who are enrolled in Arkansas colleges. This program is targeted at students who are studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as finance and other related degrees.
The participants will have the opportunity to intern at Acxiom, Central Arkansas Water, L’Oreal or Windstream.
Interns will be paid for the duration of the program, receiving $15-20 per hour (depending on the company), as well as free apartment housing and weekly networking events. The WFA will also be providing professional development workshops, and each intern will have the chance to present to each company at the conclusion of the program.
According to WFA executive director Anna Beth Gorman, the internship program arose in the wake of discussions around the Black Lives Matter movement. WFA staff members began thinking of how the organization could positively impact Black and POC women in Arkansas. As Gorman said, the staff was asking “What role can we play in challenging the status quo?” and “How are we really elevating the status of women in Arkansas?”
The summer internship became the vehicle for impacting minority women. Choosing to focus on STEM fields was an easy decision for Gorman, who said that minority women are underrepresented in these fields, and that this would be a chance to provide access and new opportunities.
Gorman and the WFA team approached companies, including Acxiom, Central Arkansas Water, L’Oreal and Windstream, that had supported their programs in the past. The companies agreed to the program, offering spots for four interns at each company. As Gorman said, “One intern is tokenism, but four people can change the culture of a company.” Having multiple interns is also designed to provide an immediate support network, bolstering the multiple layers of support that are built into the program, from the financial support to the professional support.
Having the internships be paid was crucial for Gorman, who noted that minority, first-generation college students would be less likely to have a financial net to help them afford an unpaid internship. “It’s one thing to offer an internship, but can you afford that internship,” Gorman said.
Gorman sees the summer internship as an opportunity for Arkansas companies to recruit “wonderful talent” from underrepresented demographics and inject new vitality into their companies. Four companies are participating in 2021, and she hopes to see more join in on future programs. “If you actually want to see a change in your workforce, if you want to see more diversity, you have to do the work of equity,” she said.
This internship program is named in honor of Tjuana Byrd, the first Black president of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas. Byrd currently serves as an assistant city attorney for North Little Rock and as a public defender in Sherwood, as well as an attorney ad litem representing children in foster care in Poinsett County.
To qualify for the internship program, individuals must identify as a women; be a person of color or a minority race/ethnicity; be pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering or math; be attending university in Arkansas; and must be a rising junior, senior or recent graduate as of May 2021.
The deadline to apply is Dec. 20, 2020. The program is expected to run from May 24 to July 30, 2021.
Click here to apply.