Students pursuing an MS in management through George Mason University’s School of Business usually spend four months getting work experience through internships at local companies. This year, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic, administrators had to think creatively. So instead, they asked local businesses what they thought of hiring students to do remote “researchships.”
“With the pandemic, we didn’t think there would be many of your typical internships, so we had to innovate,” said Victoria Grady, associate professor of management and director of the management program. “We reached out to businesses in Arlington and asked them if they wanted students who could research and provide answers to specific questions they had.”
The 11-month, 36-credit program, which begins in August and finishes in July, generally has around 35 students attending each year. The program focuses on the fundamentals of business management in a global environment. The internship is a key part of the program, so administrators were concerned that students would lose out on a valuable opportunity to put classroom theory to practice in a corporate environment.
Kimberly Blue, graduate career manager at the School of Business, reached out to the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and various businesses, and found that, despite the pandemic, some businesses wanted to do more of a traditional internship. Other businesses, however, were intrigued by the idea of students researching particular topics from remote locations. She described the researchship as similar to being a consultant. Both researchships and internships are paid.
Six businesses chose the researchship model, with professional services firm Dixon Hughes Goodman and Arlington Community Federal Credit Union taking two students each.
Lawrence Hailes, who graduated Mason in 2015 with a BA in music, was working as an actor in local productions when the pandemic hit. He decided to pivot into the corporate world so that he had some job stability. Hailes’ researchship is with Dixon Hughes Goodman.
“I have been looking at questions around restructuring post-pandemic,” said Hailes. “I’m looking into trends—what are other companies doing? Are they going virtual or hybrid, and how are they keeping their employees connected?”
Each week, Hailes receives questions about “what they want me to dig into” and then on Fridays he makes presentations and recommendations related to his research.
“I think I give the firm a fresh perspective,” said Hailes. “And the researchship allows me to delve into a topic, learn about the corporate world and then communicate my findings in a succinct way for a broad audience.”
Hailes adds, “Being an actor has paid off because I’m not shy about presenting to people.”
Clare Sullivan, who graduated with a degree in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University, said that her researchship at Arlington Economic Development has allowed her to study in depth urban agriculture.
“I’ve learned about the impact that urban agriculture can have, how it brings jobs and education and access to food,” said Sullivan. “And I’ve gotten to work with great people who love their jobs.”
Blue said that both the businesses and the students appear to be gaining from the researchship model. She expects the program to offer both researchships and internships post-pandemic.
“By thoroughly examining important topics, students are making a real difference for their employers,” said Blue.