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New Funding Supports College Students Chasing Their Dreams in Unpaid Internships

Even before he appeared on NBC’s “The Office” and in the 2012 film “Pitch Perfect” with the Hullabahoos, one of the University of Virginia’s a cappella singing groups, third-year student Nicholas Cafero knew he wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

“All of my life, I’ve been absolutely enamored by the entertainment business: music, movies, television – you name it, I love it,” Cafero said. “I’ve always wanted to work in entertainment in some capacity.”

Now, with the help of a new initiative from U.Va.’s College Foundation, Cafero plans to spend the summer in Los Angeles pursuing opportunities in the field. He and third-year student Hajeong (Emily) Bang are the first beneficiaries of the Armstrong Scholars Program, which provides $5,000 stipends for Arts & Sciences students pursuing unpaid summer internships in business or business-related fields.

The College is still accepting applications for summer 2013 funding. Applications are online and are due by Monday.

The program is named for Beverley W. “Booty” Armstrong, a Richmond-area business leader who graduated from the College in 1964 and from the Darden School of Business in 1966. Armstrong, who passed away in 2011, envisioned the program because he valued both a well-rounded liberal arts education and the practical training an internship provides, according to program organizers.

Cafero, who is studying politics with a minor in media studies, had his first taste of the stage as a senior in high school, when he played the lead in “The Music Man.” Though that was the extent of his singing experience at the time, he decided to audition for the Hullabahoos as a first-year at U.Va. He’s now the group’s president.

In 2011, the Hullabahoos traveled to Baton Rouge, La., to film a small part in “Pitch Perfect,” which centers on the world of collegiate a cappella singing. For Cafero, the experience reinforced his interest in a career in show business.

“My jaw was on the floor the entire time I was there,” he said. “I was able to see firsthand how everything worked together: the acting, the directing, the choreography. It was amazing to me that they could take all these pieces and put them together into a final product that people can enjoy for years to come.”

Last fall, the Hullabahoos had another brush with fame. A representative from NBC contacted the group and asked if its members were interested in auditioning for a part in an episode of “The Office.” Cafero helped film the group’s audition tape, and then traveled with six of his fellow members to L.A. to film a scene.

“When I was out there, I talked with some people, asking ‘This is what I want to do, how do I get involved with it?’” Cafero said. “Everyone told me that if you want to get in the door, you have to be in L.A.”

The Armstrong Scholar fellowship makes it possible for Cafero to live in the city during the summer and pursue unpaid internships, possibly with a nightly talk show or a talent and management company. Without the stipend, he’d likely have to spend those months working at a restaurant or in some other job and interning in his spare time, he said. 

The Armstrong Scholar Program is different from many similar stipends because it allows students to apply for funding before they actually secure an internship, said Ken Kipps, director of administration for the College Foundation. This allows students greater flexibility in finding the work they want.

“This program essentially gives students a fishing license,” Kipps said. “They can go looking for an internship knowing that they can afford to take something that’s unpaid.”

Bang, who is double-majoring in foreign affairs in the College and public policy in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, will use the stipend to pursue opportunities in the music industry. She studies the piano in the McIntire Department of Music and said she has a long-standing interest in the music industry.

“I’m particularly interested in composition, and this internship is really crucial for me if I’m going to pursue a career in that field,” she said.

Bang hopes to intern this summer for one of the so-called “big four” music companies – Warner, Universal, Sony BMG or EMI – or perhaps work for a global entertainment management company.

Though she plays both the piano and the violin, she said she’s mostly interested in composing music for film or TV. So far, she’s completed six or seven compositions of her own – mostly for solo piano – and has about 30 to 40 unfinished works.

Bang is from Kyrgyzstan, and traces her interest in music to her childhood there. She grew up attending a Russian school, and is fluent in Kyrgyz, Russian, English and Korean. At U.Va., she has also studied Chinese and French.

The Armstrong Scholar funding is a game-changer for her because it allows her to stay in the U.S. over the summer and pursue a field in which unpaid internships are the norm, she said.  Without it, she’d likely return to Kyrgyzstan and look for an internship there.

“This gives me a chance to try out something that I’m really passionate about,” she said.

Bang, who is also a resident advisor in the Russian House and president of U.Va.’s Slavic Student Association, said she would definitely recommend that other students interested in pursuing unpaid internships apply for the Armstrong funding.

“It doesn’t restrict you in terms of what field you want to pursue,” she said. “It could be just about anything, as long as it is business related.”

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