HBCU internship program provides valuable experience
As a student majoring in journalism and mass communication with a minor in political science, Saunicia Wallace-Williams drew on all of her educational experience this past summer while working as an intern for AT&T.
The North Carolina A&T University junior worked with AT&T’s public affairs division, learning first-hand how legislative relations works in North Carolina. She also wrote press releases for AT&T, valuable experience for someone who wants to be a journalist when she graduates.
“The biggest takeaway was how much work there was between AT&T and the government, and how much the government is involved in telecommunications,” she said.
Wallace-Williams interned as part of the North Carolina Governor’s HBCU Internship Program, which began in 2015 and created a framework to provide paid internship opportunities to all historically black colleges and universities in the state, including the five HBCU campuses of the University of North Carolina system. Wallace-Williams was one of 19 UNC system students to participate this past year in the internship program.
Tracey Ford, UNC’s assistant vice president for academic and student affairs, said the program pairs companies who have specific needs with students who are studying those disciplines.
“In another year, AT&T might have wanted a student with an engineering background,” Ford said. “So we send all the applications to every company that is participating, and we let them pick which student best fits their needs for that particular summer.”
Ford said one of the biggest benefits of the program is giving HBCU students access to large corporations in North Carolina.
“One of the things the chancellors of those institutions said was their students sometimes have limited access to those large corporations,” she said. “The other benefit, of course, is the work experience the student gets in these roles. These are very high-quality internships, so students are working on projects as part of the team – they aren’t just there doing administrative work. The exposure is very important to the student, as well as the possibility of employment once they graduate.”
Wallace-Williams played several roles at AT&T, including studying where current legislators and candidates for office stood on issues important to the company.
Clifton Metcalf, AT&T’s director of public affairs for North Carolina and South Carolina, said Wallace-Williams was an outstanding intern who was able to run with whatever the company asked of her.
“It was really exciting and refreshing to have her on our team,” Metcalf said. “She always had a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and excitement with whatever she was doing. One of the things we tried to do was expose her to a fairly wide variety of activities on our side of the business.”
Metcalf said the public affairs division of AT&T provided a vastly different work experience for an intern compared to the sales or technical divisions of the company.
“Because of that broad range of things, it could be a bit overwhelming for some students, but I don’t think it was for Saunicia,” he said. “She always jumped in and embraced the opportunities we offered to her.”
Those opportunities including sitting in on legislative discussions, going to committee meetings, writing reports about political candidates and working with the media. Wallace-Williams also attended community stakeholder meetings across the southeast region.
One of the key projects Wallace-Williams worked on was the Access program, a low-cost broadband initiative that AT&T is introducing on a national level.
Metcalf, a former journalist, worked with Wallace-Williams on her writing.
“I told her, ‘there may be times you might have some unkind comments about me or my mother, but by the end of the summer, you will be a better writer,’ “ he said. “I think she was. She learned a lot and she’s going to be an asset to some corporation after she graduates.”
Wallace-Williams said the internship has changed her career plans. Originally, she wanted to work as a TV reporter after she graduated from North Carolina A&T. Now, she said she wants to pursue print journalism, and is looking at graduate school programs to further that goal.
“I plan to do a lot of writing,” she said.
Written by Phillip Ramati