When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic struck, students found themselves stuck at home with no proms, graduations, or spring breaks to participate in.
CommunityAmerica Credit Union wanted to take advantage of those idle, creative minds and developed a virtual internship program that would not only serve as a focus group, but also teach innovation and entrepreneurial skills.
“Young adults love to solve for problems or crisis,” says Lisa Ginter, CEO of the $3 billion asset credit union in Lenexa, Kan. “We wanted to leverage them in a way that could really help us while also teaching them to create and think creatively.”
The response was overwhelming. In less than five days, nearly 500 students applied. CommunityAmerica hired 357 virtual interns from 100 schools across the region.
During the six-week program, the credit union leveraged technology via Zoom meetings, text messages, and a customer relationship management system. It also created a private social network for the students.
Interns spent the first three weeks reviewing the credit union’s products and services, and offering ideas on how to market them to younger consumers. They also listened to guest speakers who addressed topics including entrepreneurship and unconscious bias, Ginter says.
The second half of the internship was “when all the fun started,” Ginter says.
The credit union split the interns into 43 teams and tasked them to come up with a solution to a problem the COVID-19 crisis posed.
“It was a blank piece of paper,” Ginter says. “We’re in the midst of a crisis. What could we do? It was teaching them entrepreneurialism and how to be creative at trying to solve something.”
The teams worked on their ideas and were whittled down until eight teams remained—four college teams and four high school teams. Those teams presented their ideas before a panel of judges and answered questions during a live event on Zoom.
The winning ideas were:
The winning teams each received prize money they’ll use to invest in their ideas and take them to market.
“I was blown away,” Ginter says. “I don’t know how they got it down to eight finalists. Those eight were fantastic.”
Interns received a small stipend, but many choose to donate it, allowing CommunityAmerica to donate $5,000 to charitable organizations.
Not only did the students learn how to work together on diverse teams—virtually with other students they had never met—they also learned about innovation and other skills which will benefit them in the future.
“I came into this with minimal knowledge of how innovation works,” wrote Grace Beelman, who will be a junior at Notre Dame de Sion High School in Kansas City, Mo. “This internship has forced me to think and work more cooperatively and realistically. These real-world skills will benefit me for a lifetime, and I’m grateful that you opened my eyes to how the world works outside of a classroom.”