As Athens small businesses adapt to how COVID-19 has changed the workplace, one University of Georgia program is making the process a little easier—and giving students hands-on learning experiences at the same time.
The Bright Horizons Internship Program pairs federal work-study students with independently owned businesses in rapidly growing fields. Administered by the Office of University Experiential Learning in conjunction with the Office of Student Financial Aid, the program offers students immersive, relevant work experience. It also builds industry partnerships and supports economic growth in Athens-Clarke County and surrounding areas.
Preparing students for career success
Sarah Sharp, a third-year entertainment and media studies major, wanted to expand her resume. Sharp had worked typical jobs like waitressing and lifeguarding, but her passion lay in film and broadcast. In August, she came across the perfect job posting.
Local real estate firm Woodall Realty Group wanted to showcase the diversity of Athens through digital media, but they needed a videographer.
“The timing was crazy,” said Justin Woodall, team leader of Woodall Realty Group. “We had just talked about how maybe there’s a UGA student in journalism or marketing that might be a good fit. We ended up getting an email [about Bright Horizons], and I said, ‘this is perfect.’”
Sharp met with Woodall and his team. A few short weeks later, she was traveling around Athens, filming, editing and producing videos.
“I’ve absolutely loved working with them,” Sharp said. “I’ve never had that kind of creative freedom in a job. It’s giving me a lot of experience in the field I want to go into, and working with clients in a commercial setting is helping me figure out my style.”
Creating new opportunities
Federal work-study positions are need-based and traditionally place students in on-campus locations such as libraries or rec centers. Bright Horizons matches federal work-study students with off-campus opportunities in “bright outlook” occupations—high-demand careers in fast-growing industries such as:
- agricultural and animal sciences,
- data science,
- environmental science,
- health care,
- media and entertainment,
- and more.
Federal work-study dollars support 75% of the student intern’s salary, while the employer contributes the remaining 25%. This support helps small businesses fill positions and offer more hours to students looking for work experience. Approximately 320 UGA students participate in federal work-study programs. Since its inception last spring, Bright Horizons has matched 17 students with local internships—and the demand is growing.
“An employer who might normally be able to afford one intern now could potentially hire four through partnering with Bright Horizons,” said Andrew Potter, director of university experiential learning. “It also gives them a great way to look for talent on campus.”
The next step
For Woodall, working with Sharp has been a win-win. Sharp’s videos drum up business while also giving her the skills to pursue work in the film industry.
“I hope that Sarah gains valuable job experience that she can take forward with her throughout her career and her life,” Woodall said.
That’s a goal that Potter shares as well. As the program continues to grow, these internships could become full-time opportunities in many local businesses and organizations.
“The biggest impact is simply exposure,” said Potter. “We want to help students see themselves working in high-wage, high-growth careers, and we can do that with great partners like Woodall Realty Group.”
Sharp has her sights set on TV and broadcast. After graduation, her next stop may be right down the road at Athena Studios, a $60 million sound stage development set to open later this year.
“I’ve already told my dad that when I graduate, I’m going to stay in Athens another year, maybe more,” she said. “I love the community.”