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Sac State Communication Studies students paired with local, woman-led startups for paid internships

Sacramento State Communication Studies students need practical experience. Sacramento’s women entrepreneurs need help getting their ideas off the ground.

Pairing the two made perfect sense to Cheng Hong, an assistant professor of Communication Studies whose research interests include helping organizations communicate their values to stakeholders.

Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Cheng Hong poses on the backdrop of green grass and a light-colored house.
Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Cheng Hong worked with Carlsen Center partner FourthWave, which supports women-led Sacramento businesses, to pair six students with seven local startup companies for paid internships. (Courtesy Cheng Hong)

“I'm doing research about it, and then I realized, maybe I could also get students involved through internship programs,” said Hong, who is also a faculty-in-residence at Sac State’s Carlsen Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “It's all kind of connected. It's all kind of cohesive.”

She worked with FourthWave, an organization that supports women-led Sacramento businesses and Carlsen Center partner, to pair six students with seven local startup companies for paid internships that provided them with valuable, career-ready skills.

A Sac State Anchor University Grant funded the internships. The grants are awarded to students, faculty, and staff working in the community to advance Sac State’s Anchor University initiative.

“We are based in our community,” Hong said. “We are trying to connect our students with the community, with the Sacramento area, the entrepreneurship ecosystem. So, I think that's in line with what Anchor University is about.”

The project also connects with Sac State’s mission to be an antiracist and inclusive campus, she said.

“Anchor University values diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I think that's naturally part of the program, because we are focusing on empowering female founders,” Hong said.

Students performed a variety of public relations and communications tasks, including writing press releases and media pitches, as well as creating social media content calendars.

Destinee Lang, a senior Journalism major graduating this spring, interned with women’s health website Pink Lemonade and medical startup Scopi.

For Pink Lemonade, she built a social media calendar based on the site’s existing and planned content. That work, she said, allowed her to tap into her existing skillset. She runs a popular TikTok account offering tips for natural hair.

Her work for Scopi focused more on writing, an area in which she acknowledges some weakness. The internship allowed her to practice and shore up those skills.

“Being able to actually work with Sac State took a lot of the burden off of us to try to do some of the initial work, and it also paired us with students that actually were interested in what we were doing.” -- Lilly Khorsand, Pink Lemonade co-founder

The program, she said, “helped me learn how to communicate better in a professional setting. Without this internship, I felt I would have been lost jumping after college into the workforce.”

Lang said the opportunity to work specifically with women entrepreneurs is a primary reason she was so eager to apply for the internship. In particular, she said, Pink Lemonade provides frank and honest information about women’s health issues, a topic that can sometimes be difficult even for women to discuss.

"I’ve never heard of a company that wants to empower women in this way,” she said. “I just feel like it was a great process that I would love to see other girls and men participate in as well."

The partnership with Sac State solved multiple challenges for Pink Lemonade co-founders Lilly Khorsand and Gaby Chavez. The brand new company – launched in July 2022 – desperately needed help promoting its brand. Khorsand and Chavez were interested in hiring an intern but did not know how, and even if they found that person, they were uncertain how they would pay for that work.

Sac State connected them with – and compensated – Lang, an enthusiastic intern who was ready and willing to help. That foundation allowed them to focus on making sure Lang would be treated fairly and could perform meaningful work.

“Being able to actually work with Sac State took a lot of the burden off of us to try to do some of the initial work, and it also paired us with students that actually were interested in what we were doing,” Khorsand said. “They were getting paid, so it kind of allowed us to focus more on the relationship we built with Destinee.”

With some money from the Anchor Grant still available, Hong said she hopes to be able to hire at least one or two students this spring. Beyond that, she plans to apply for additional funding to continue the partnership, with the goal to create a sustainable long-term internship program.

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About Jonathan Morales

Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a newspaper reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams, and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.

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