Robert F. Smith On Creating Internships For Underrepresented Students

Being a diversity-conscious employer is extremely important, both for prospective employees and for a business’s ethos. In a 2017 student report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), working for diversity-minded employers was the single greatest preference for African American men and women and among the greatest preferences for other underrepresented student groups. But securing satisfying and rewarding work is more difficult for such students if a business’s leadership doesn’t prioritize employment opportunities for diversity-focused recruitment, on-the-job skills training, and long term professional growth.

Robert F. Smith deftly addresses the underrepresentation of students in the workplace through his leadership of the Fund II Foundation and associated programs, like InternX, which connects rising sophomores from ethnically underrepresented groups by providing STEM and Business-focused internships. InternX is the flagship program for Fund II Foundation, which Smith continues to work with to create professional opportunities for underrepresented communities. 

“The whole inspiration really comes from an ideological position around how…you liberate the human spirit,” Smith says. InternX offers competitive compensation for its positions and, often, relocation assistance to support underserved students’ ability to provide value for businesses and themselves.

While advancing workplace diversity through internships comes with unique challenges for different industries, employers can universally benefit from focusing on diversity as a crucial part of their business’s identity. For instance, if a company’s official site or internship program tells the ongoing story of their relationship with diversity through current employee profiles, mission statements, or outreach hiring, it increases the likelihood that curious students will take a chance and apply.

Smith’s passion for creating professional opportunities is, in part, a reflection of the positive experiences he had as a high school intern at Bell Labs, where he gained early exposure to company culture and on-the-job lessons about the importance of determination and professional ambition. That internship eventually led to a job that helped him afford college while offering him opportunities to learn and grow in ways that made future success possible. Figuring out how to ensure similarly talented and ethnically underrepresented students have the means to accomplish similar and even greater goals is fundamental to Smith’s approach in life and business.
Learn more about Robert F. Smith’s role with Fund II Foundation and InternX.