MBA students innovate to meet internship requirements during COVID-19 pandemic

While this summer didn’t go according to nearly anyone’s plans, people adapted to make the most of it. Road trips replaced air travel. Outdoor films and al fresco dining were in vogue. And with many internships off the table, students at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business pivoted, too.

Summer is when graduate students usually put their knowledge to the test and hone skills in a real-life work environment. But, as companies buckled down and took their teams online in the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, hiring froze and many internships were retracted. So, Daniels grad students did what they’ve been taught—they met the challenge with a creative consulting solution.

The Strategy

Daniels students and staff put their heads, and connections, together to pair 14 graduate students with meaningful virtual consulting projects that were individualized to their interests and areas of study, to meet their academic programs’ internship requirements. The pro bono business projects also contributed toward organizations’ triple bottom lines—people, planet and profits—to benefit the public good.

The Coordinators

Brendan Yonke

Second-year Denver MBA students Brendan Yonke and Hasib Nasirullah, co-presidents of the Daniels Consulting Firm student group, quickly mobilized to fill a need for students across Daniels MBA and MS programs, with placements at eight companies and nonprofits in the Denver metro area. They worked with Daniels Career Services and External Relations staff to reach out to employers, scope projects, match organizations with students and provide ongoing support for the Summer Challenge projects. 

“All of us are fortunate to be a part of an MBA program that trains their students to rise to the occasion in uncertain times,” said Yonke, who obtained a part-time paid internship with Denver Botanic Gardens through his outreach for Summer Challenge projects. “Whether through leadership training or the experiential projects every quarter, Hasib and I were confident that the members of our cohort had the skills, will and ability to help local organizations in their greatest time of need.”

Hasib Nasirullah

Nasirullah worked with Charles Schwab this summer to connect participants in the plans Schwab manages for corporate clients with the vast resources and strengths the firm has for retail investors.

“I wanted to find a way to give back to the community during this pandemic crisis. A lot of my friends from high school and college are doctors, and I felt helpless not being out there on the frontlines like they are,” he explained. “The Summer Challenge became a way for me to give back by helping my classmates to find meaningful summer opportunities to meet their learning requirements and also connect businesses that were in need of help during this unprecedented economic crisis with wonderful MBAs who could create value and impact.”

The Projects

Second-year Denver MBA student Micah Feigelson helped the VF Foundation communicate its impact to stakeholders and publish its first annual report. VF Corporation has a portfolio of global outdoor lifestyle brands, including Vans, The North Face and Timberland. Feigelson researched the impact metrics and grantee data other corporate foundations use for their reports.

He wanted to consult on sustainability and social impact, and said the project allowed him to connect with employees for informational interviews to learn more about the circular economy of supply chains. “For that alone, it’s been a great experience,” Feigelson said. “It was cool to see all the things you hear about in class happening in real time. VF puts a lot of time into making the social impacts more impactful.”

Feigelson’s classmate Chris Kenny also partnered with VF for his Summer Challenge project, helping the company look at impacts of carbon pricing in relation to climate policy.

“Chris’s project got taken to the highest levels for thoughtful consideration within three meetings on the project,” said Daniels Executive MBA alumnus and VF Corporation Vice President for Government Affairs and Global Impact Luis Benitez (MBA 2018), who facilitated the partnership with Feigelson and Kenny. “So, that speaks volumes of the caliber of work that they were bringing to the table. They were always professional, always prepared, always on time, and they provided an excellent work product.”

Meanwhile, three other students consulted with Energize Colorado—a nonprofit established with Gov. Polis’s support to help small businesses recover from COVID-19-related struggles. Online MBA@Denver student Chad Riley helped Energize launch its flagship Gap Fund program to help Colorado businesses secure funds through $25 million in small business loans and grants.

“It’s been a fantastic experience,” said Riley, who used his finance concentration to help determine financing sources for the Gap Fund. “There’s clearly a need within the state for supplemental gap funding for organizations. It will ideally be a showcase example of how to help and support businesses at a statewide level that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.”

Riley said the program is prioritizing assistance to traditionally underrepresented and disenfranchised business owners to bolster their ability to withstand the financial impacts from COVID-19 closures, operating restrictions and increased expenses.

“I found that to be very inspiring and refreshing.”

The Connectors

Kate Dillon

Among others, Kate Dillon, director of External Relations, and Bob Kumagai, executive director of Daniels Career Services, leveraged their relationships with recruiters, corporate partners and alumni to help Nasirullah and Yonke secure Summer Challenge projects for their classmates.

“We have several recruiting and industry partners who were more than interested and willing to engage with our students,” Dillon said. “It also seemed to help our partners with needed resources on their end. We had several great companies in mind to engage in this partnership, but we also asked the students which companies they hoped to work with over the summer. We actively engaged each one of those organizations in the collaboration.”

“The fact that everyone at Daniels was willing to pull every string and reach out to every contact they have to make these projects happen is a real testament to how much everyone at the College cares about graduate students and their professional success,” said Yonke. “I know this sort of program wouldn’t have been possible at other business colleges, and this whole experience has only reaffirmed my decision to attend DU for my MBA.”

Bob Kumagai

Kumagai added, “The result has been a win for students who had the opportunity to work and learn from finance, operations, marketing, data analytics and strategic problems. In turn, companies benefitted from having highly motivated graduate students apply their skills to their businesses.”

On the employer side, Benitez complimented the College’s ability to be nimble when VF Corp., like many other companies, had to discontinue its paid internship program. “I was really impressed with Daniels’ ability to pivot and say, ‘It doesn’t need to be paid, we’ll still have them sign the NDA, we still have people interested in what you do.’ We were still looking for a solution and Daniels was able to come to the table with that.”