Virginia Commonwealth University [View Image]School of Business

Experience spurs donor generosity

May 12, 2021 - Susan T. Burtch

Kevin Nicholson watched his son take an unpaid internship the summer after his freshman year.

Joey Stemmle grew up as the youngest of six children, usually dressed in hand-me-down clothes.

Jay Collier wants to support VCU’s “quest for distinction” by encouraging students to look for jobs in major metropolitan markets 

What do these three alumni have in common? They all gave a specific gift, inspired by personal experience and a sincere desire to give back to the university that helped to launch their own careers.

The Nicholson Internship Fund was established in 2018 by Kevin Nicholson (M.B.A. '06/B, M.D.A.'21/B) because he appreciates the power of internships in helping students secure a job in finance after graduation. “What brought this to light for me,” he remembers, “is that my son attended UVA. Recruiters came to his campus all the time, but VCU students don’t always have that same access. And not every student has the financial situation to be able to take an unpaid internship. So that was a motivating factor in my setting up this fund. I knew what my son had gone through and I wanted to be able to ease some of the financial burden for a deserving VCU student.

“Internships are especially important in finance. The field is very competitive, so you really need an internship every year you’re an undergrad. If you get one that first summer, it’s easier to land paid internships after that. When I came up and went into finance, I didn’t know anything about this. I want to make sure this opportunity is given to students today.”

A custom-made suit from Franco’s was the inspiration of Joey Stemmle (B.S. ‘13/B) – so a student could look as professional as possible in interviews and on the job. He chose Franco’s specifically because he wanted to support a local business. “You don’t want to pass up some opportunity because you can’t dress up for it. People are getting back into offices now, so it’s even more important.”

Stemmle himself didn’t get his first suit until a year after he graduated. “When I was an intern and had my first review, I remember one of the comments was that I should try to dress the part a little more. That stuck out to me. Now I know, when you get that suit custom-fitted, it feels so good. You walk with a whole new layer of confidence. I thought giving this clothing credit would be a good way to address a need and help a student get that important first suit.”

The VCU Business Finance Experiential Learning Fund is a scholarship given by Jay Collier (B.S. ‘10/B) to encourage internship experiences in financial hubs around the nation and around the world. While his goal is to ease the financial burden on students, Collier admits he sees a direct benefit for VCU as well. “If you want to work in London or New York City or Boston, you should consider those internships. I want to invest in VCU students getting really good jobs with high-paying salaries, and that often starts with an internship. Hopefully these students will look back favorably on their alma mater and pay it forward by making a donation to the school that helped them get there. I’d like for our alumni to be in senior positions at places like Morgan Stanley, so they can then look favorably on other VCU students who come through. This elevates both the students and the school.”

Hermela Tesfaye (B.S. ‘22/B), recipient of The Experiential Learning Fund, is an example of the highly motivated student Collier is happy to fund. “I was 100% set on getting an internship, no matter what. I spent a good two months applying, sending out applications on a daily basis, interviewed with half-a-dozen companies. I met with career advisors, practicing interviews. When I first heard about the scholarship, I applied for it right away – even though I didn’t actually have an internship at that time.”

When Tesfaye was finally hired by Bank of America, she was thrilled but worried. The intern job was in Washington D.C., but because of COVID, she would be online, not out of Richmond for her experiential learning. Yet her funding needs were real – a laptop and better internet access as opposed to transportation and clothing costs. Not a problem. The fund supports motivation. Bank of America is a good start for Tesfaye and a first step into the big league. “I’m so excited,” she grins. “When you start interviewing for a job, it’s so much better to talk about on-the-job work than classwork. There’s nothing like hands-on intern experience in finance.”

View graphic version