Internship program helps build diverse workforce through direct experience

Yu Zheng, a senior at the University of Minnesota, has already learned the ins and outs of three careers well before graduation. 

For the past three years, Yu has participated in the UnitedHealth Group internship program, getting hands-on experience with information technology, communications and marketing. 

“I managed the emergency room diversion campaign,” Yu said. “We sent a monthly email to our members about saving money by going to urgent care instead of the emergency room. The best part about interning at this organization is that there's thousands of roles in this company. I can explore my interests.”

Yu Zheng working on her computer Yu Zheng working on her computer

Yu’s internship is possible thanks to a collaboration with INROADS. The nonprofit organization works to help increase diversity in the workforce by developing talented young students on a path to corporate leadership. INROADS supports these often underserved college students through professional development, career guidance, mentorship and scholarship opportunities. 

“We find that when we bring people in from the college source, they perform at a very high level, they stay with us for a long time, and they have great upward mobility,” said Peggi Tobias, UnitedHealthcare vice-president of human capital. “This is a fantastic opportunity for diverse perspectives to contribute to our long-term talent strategy.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, interns like Yu completed their internship virtually this year. Yu said while it was notably different than previous years, she still walked away with a great deal of experience. 

In fact, the internship program was recently named among WayUp’s Top 100 for its commitment to continuing the program during the pandemic — at a time when other companies were forced to shorten or eliminate their internships completely.   

“Given the investment we have in the interns and the commitment to our talent strategy, we carried forward,” Peggi said. “Even in the face of the pandemic, we added 100 summer interns and INROADS was one of our key partners to fill these roles – bringing our total count to 800 nationally and 900 globally.”

The internship program provides students the opportunity to collaborate within a team and contribute to meaningful business objectives. For example, an intern in finance and accounting helps close the books each month. An intern in human capital may design and lead a focus group strategy to inform a new program, while sales interns may train and become licensed to sell products during the summer. 

“Through our collaboration with UnitedHealth Group, we have been able to work together to provide opportunities for underserved students as we envision a brighter, more diverse future for the health care industry,” said Forest Harper, Jr., the CEO and president of INROADS. “We are thrilled that our students were able to gain the invaluable experience this summer.”

Yu said interning with UnitedHealth Group has provided authentic learning experiences that she’s hoping will lead to a potential job offer. She’s on track to graduate next May, pursuing degrees in management information systems and marketing.

“I’m very thankful for their partnership with INROADS,” Yu said. “It means each connection opens a doorway to multiple opportunities, which brings confidence in me after I graduate. To all of the college students who are looking to gain job experience, I would say keep being persistent and keep applying.”