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Sabrina Cera, a senior at Wake Forest University, took a job this summer as a marketing intern at FedEx. It was her first time in Memphis, and it was initially hard for the Wake Forest University senior to meet other people outside the logistics company.

But Cera, 21, relied on a citywide intern program to help her meet other interns and learn about her new city.

That program, Launch: Campus to Career, is run by New Memphis, an organization that connects interns to businesses and assists college students in establishing their careers in Memphis while adding new flair to the city.

Launch at New Memphis hosts a discussion panel for interns in Summer Experience, a series of free networking events. Launch helped college students find internships in Memphis, and gave companies a platform to display their internships. (Photo: Submitted)

“Launch allows me to get to know Memphis better, especially as someone not from Memphis” she said. Cera said she discovered the Launch initiative from a presentation at FedEx. “I feel like I have more networking opportunities.”

This summer, Cera, a Raleigh, N.C., native, has joined more than 1,000 interns working in the Memphis area as part of Launch’s Summer Experience program — a series of free events to help interns network, meet potential employers and socialize.

This year’s Summer Experience was funded by sponsors including Nike, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, NextAir, AutoZone, International Paper and Regional One Health. The summer program involved speed mentoring with Memphis business leaders, Memphis trivia and a panel discussion on leadership stories from business professionals.

The events provided a setting for interns to connect with others interested in building their careers. 

“Summer Experience contributed to my professional progress and helped me socially,” said Haggaikiah Futch, a junior at Tennessee State University. “The immersion in Memphis history, meeting other young professionals, and making connections outside of the workplace all made the summer great.”

Futch, 24, interned at the General Sessions Civil Court for Shelby County, and recently accepted a full-time position with the Court. 

Launch — which started a year ago — invited students to mingle with business professionals, learn leadership development and find internships. 

Advocating for more internships in Memphis

Launch’s website lists internship openings for more than 100 Memphis companies, including International Paper, AutoZone and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“The portal is the gateway that will help grow the internships in Memphis and make them available to anyone,” said Anna Wohrman, New Memphis director of marketing and partnerships.

She said some of the college freshmen and sophomores who went through Launch last year came back to intern again in Memphis this year. 

“The Launch program increases the number of internships in the city,” Wohrman said. “We expose companies to that value of interns by giving them resources and building the programs in businesses.”

This past April, Launch held its first Mission Control event, a session for businesses to learn the merit of internships, with 40 companies. The companies provide resources, like a guide to developing internships, and support for companies starting or bettering their internship program. 

TruGreen attended the Mission Control session as the lawn-maintenance service began exploring the opportunity to implement a summer internship program.

Through that meeting, TruGreen connected with the intern-portal which helps companies post jobs and provides a platform for students to connect with organizations. Sifting through a number of talented candidates, TruGreen said it selected 17 college students to join its inaugural summer internship program.

The TruGreen interns enjoyed not only the development opportunities offered  at the company but also had the chance to connect with other interns and employers throughout the city during the events offered by New Memphis, TruGreen said.

“Our first summer internship program has been a success and the partnership with New Memphis has given TruGreen the unique opportunity to build better relationships with local universities and the Memphis community,” said Chrystal Ensey, TruGreen director of learning & OD. “We look forward to kicking off our second annual internship offering next summer.”

Jessica Cowan, manager of collegiate engagement at New Memphis, said: “Memphis has a lot of unique talent here. They’re ready to work. They have the hustle and grind spirit.”

Program draws local, international interns

Memphis natives account for 55% of interns in Launch who want to start their professional endeavors locally.

“Internships are not democratized,” Cowan said. “People get internships based on who you know, so we have an opportunity to connect people. We’re allowing diversification within large company, and small company, internships.”

Launch participants consist of 44% African American, 35% white, 8.4% Asian, 5.34% Hispanic or Latin American, 2% Middle Eastern and 5.26% other.

They are part of a network of more than 1,200 college students and recent college graduates.

“The portal creates exposure and awareness not only for the companies, but also for the talent pool,” Cowan said.

This year, interns from 156 different cities, five countries and 123 colleges participated in 10-year-old Summer Experience program, which ends on July 25 with an end of summer send-off at Wiseacre Brewery Co. 

Ten interns from last summer’s series returned this summer to either the same company they worked in or to a new business. 

For more information on the program, visit newmemphis.org.

Reporter Dima Amro can be reached at dima.amro@commercialappeal.com

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