A new $1-million gift supporting career development at William & Mary will triple the number of students annually who can receive university funding for internships and other applied learning opportunities and substantially increase the amount of the individual grants available, starting this summer.
The two-year commitment by W&M Foundation trustee Darpan Kapadia ’95 to the Career Center Student Internship Fund is the largest gift in the university’s history that directly supports internships. The gift will allow at least 100 undergraduates per year to receive up to $5,000 each for unpaid or underpaid applied learning experiences in 2023 and 2024, up from a recent high of 33 students in 2019. Previously, students could receive a maximum of $3,000. Over the two years, the gift multiplies by 10 the amount of available funding, paving the way for a sustained increase in the years ahead.
Career development for both students and alumni is a key priority of the university’s Vision 2026 strategic plan. Among the goals of the plan’s careers initiative is to provide the opportunity for a funded internship or other applied learning experience for every undergraduate at William & Mary.
“William & Mary prepares students to land with confidence at their first destination, be it a job, grad school or military commission. Thanks to the generous investment of Darpan Kapadia, even more of our talented students can gain essential career and research experience as undergraduates,” W&M President Katherine Rowe said. “This gift reduces the financial barriers students often face when applying for internships.”
W&M’s ongoing commitment to applied learning has been recognized by its ranking in The Princeton Review as the No. 1 public university for internships. A recently announced gift establishing the Applied Research & Innovation Initiative, a five-year pilot program, will also expand the number of paid experiential learning opportunities available to William & Mary students. As stated in the university’s Vision 2026 goals, “William & Mary will reimagine the liberal arts and professional education in the 21st century to ensure the lifelong success of our graduates.” (Editor's note: The article "Gaining Experience" in our spring 2023 issue of the W&M Alumni Magazine includes news about both gifts.)
“We know that internships give students an edge in finding a full-time job after graduation,” William & Mary Chief Career Officer Kathleen Powell said. “Studies show that applied learning experiences also lead to higher-paying jobs. This gift will open doors for more students to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Kapadia said his philanthropy was motivated by William & Mary’s career goals as part of Vision 2026 and what he has learned as vice chair of the W&M Foundation’s scholarships subcommittee, which has placed a significant emphasis on the need to fund the complete student experience, in addition to scholarships. The careers initiative aims for 85% of graduating seniors to have completed an internship or other hands-on learning opportunity by 2026. During the past three years, about 44% of W&M graduates have participated in applied learning experiences, according to information the Office of Career Engagement and Professional Development has gleaned from student surveys, LinkedIn and other sources.
“I believe that by supporting William & Mary, you can amplify the impact of your giving because you can reach hundreds, maybe thousands, of students,” Kapadia said. “You can impact their ambitions, and maybe their trajectories over time, which will have its own beneficial ripple effect on society. Supporting internships and experiential learning opportunities — and making those more accessible to students across a variety of backgrounds — is very consistent with that mindset of amplification and having an impact.”
Kapadia, who emigrated with his family from India to the United States as a young child and grew up on New York’s Long Island, learned about William & Mary when his older brother attended another public university in Virginia. As an economics major at W&M, he found the kind of intimate educational experience he was looking for: a university where he could form friendships with his professors and excel academically. He also took on leadership positions that included serving as class president. His younger brother, Bimal Kapadia ’99, also attended William & Mary as an economics major.
As chief operating officer of LS Power, Kapadia is part of the leadership team that oversees one of the largest private power generation, transmission and energy infrastructure companies in the United States, building some of the country’s leading renewable and energy transition platforms. Summer internships at law firms and with a state representative in New York helped him define his career interests and provided a background for his current work in an industry influenced by public policy, he said.
As is the case for many students, several of Kapadia’s internships were unpaid, so he also held paid part-time jobs simultaneously. But not every student is able to make that balance work, and studies show that it’s particularly challenging for women, military students and veterans, first-generation and low-income students, as well as those who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education.
More than 40% of internships nationally are unpaid, making it difficult for students to accept an opportunity if they don’t have the financial means to do so. While competition for paid internships is fierce, research shows that 60% of students who obtain a paid internship while pursuing a degree will receive a job offer from the company.
In addition, women and minorities are overrepresented among unpaid interns and underrepresented among paid interns, according to data collected by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Black students are more likely to be unpaid interns, and Hispanic American students are more likely to have no internship at all than an unpaid or paid internship. Multiracial students are more likely to be unpaid.
“The key here is to try and level the playing field,” Kapadia said. “That’s the objective of the gift, and it applies not only to internships, but also experiential learning opportunities such as studying abroad, community service and unfunded research opportunities.”
Complementing the expanded funds available to William & Mary students is a new Applied Learning resource contained in the Career Development and Professional Engagement website that provides centralized information on experiential learning opportunities for undergraduates across William & Mary.
Through a partnership between William & Mary’s Charles Center and the Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement, students will register for a course related to their applied learning experiences. The Charles Center coordinates William & Mary’s Departmental Honors Program and offers mentored research opportunities and paid internships.
Course registration provides a mechanism for students to receive funds from the university’s financial aid office as well as a more accurate way to measure how many students participate in such experiences. It also allows the experiences to appear on their transcripts.
Previously, students needed to declare a major in order to receive course credit for internships, meaning that freshmen and sophomores often did not have access to applied learning funds. The same was true for students completing applied learning experiences outside their major — for example, a biology major who spends the summer working in an art museum.
“We are a liberal arts and sciences university and there are times when amazing careers come out of these unexpected combinations of interests that don’t quite map onto existing structures,” said Elizabeth Harbron, director of the Charles Center and Floyd D. Gottwald, Sr. Professor of Chemistry. “We want to create a space where students can pursue those interests and receive academic credit.”
Pairing academic credit with an applied learning experience gives students tools to better understand the experience and how their own values relate to those of the organizations they work with, she said.
“A credit-bearing course under the guidance of a William & Mary faculty member allows students to translate their experience and map it back onto their academic journey — and think about that as a way to spring forward to their career,” Harbron said. “That helps them get even more out of that internship.”
An interdisciplinary three-credit course will be piloted this summer, with three or four sections of 12 students each. Another option may be a zero-credit course for students who cannot accommodate a summer course that would require in-person or Zoom meetings — such as those participating in the Freeman Intern Fellowships in East Asia.
Livia Martinez ’25 is one of the students who benefited from internship funds last summer through William & Mary’s Funding for Unpaid (and Underfunded) Summer Experiences program. She declared a self-designed major at the end of her freshman year in communications and digital media management. Attending the Ampersand International Arts Festival gave her the idea of pursuing an internship working in film, and she found an opportunity as a production assistant with a small video production company near her home in Frisco, Texas.
Through the internship, she met local people working in the film industry and gained behind-the-scenes insights into what is involved in producing a commercial video. Having $1,600 in internship funds from William & Mary meant she was able to focus on that job full-time, she said.
“Gas prices were so high, and I had to drive quite a bit getting back and forth to the office,” Martinez said. “It would have been very stressful if I had no money coming in.”
Having more funds available for applied learning through William & Mary will make it easier for students to gain career experience, said Martinez, who will be focusing on communications and marketing through a Freeman Intern Fellowship in the Philippines this summer.
“I think it will help to encourage freshmen and sophomores to go out and look for an internship,” she said. “It doesn’t just have to be juniors and seniors. Freshmen and sophomores can get their foot in the door earlier and not be as stressed out when junior year comes.”
For information on how to contribute to the Career Center Student Internship Fund, visit give.wm.edu or contact Suzie Armstrong ’93, assistant vice president for development for campus initiatives, at email@example.com or 757-221-7647.