Because of COVID-19, job markets have been altered, and internships are falling by the wayside. What’s required: an alternate outlet for students to utilize as a means to fill the current “opportunity gap.”

Home From College is a new digital platform launching to provide college students with inspiring content and an engaging online community. Through this platform, students will have the ability to consume short-form videos and learn about the ethos behind some of the most successful leaders across varying industries, such as media, business, technology, finance and fashion. 

The platform’s soft launch is April 24 with the hard launch set for April 27. 

Julia Haber, founder and CEO of WAYV, said she saw the pandemic’s vast impact on the college student demographic and seized the opportunity. The idea for Home From College was born on March 16. Just a week prior, Haber was actively fundraising for a new business and engaging in investor meetings. 

She said her “light-bulb” moment occurred after a conversation and video upload from good friend and YouTuber Margot Lee. Haber had been talking with Margot throughout her experience of going home from college and about how, as a senior, Margot had seen countless opportunities taken away.  

Margot, a senior advertising major at Syracuse University, recited an open letter addressing the graduating class of 2020 in a YouTube video that currently has over 130,000 views. Haber saw the immense amount of engagement in the comment section of Margot’s video, with viewers writing essays about their experiences and how they felt defeated. 

“It ignited this feeling inside of me,” Haber said. “Obviously, this is such an emotional moment for so many people in the world, and while this isn’t life or death for college students, it is valid. No one is appropriately addressing the kind of loss that is going on for college students.”

Roseline Akwarandu, a junior marketing major at the University of Texas, was in the process of applying for internships as the COVID-19 pandemic began. She received emails from those internships announcing the cancellation of entire summer programs due to the state of the world. 

“As a junior market major, it’s frustrating and a little disheartening as this is a peak time in my career to be making necessary professional strides,” Akwarandu said.

Home From College offers students an interactive experience. It highlights top industry leaders, describing their journeys to success and how they accomplished their goals. Users will have the opportunity to ask questions, participate in mentorship programs and engage in a Zoom coffee chat with a speaker of their choice. 

As time progresses, more features and experiences will appear on the platform, including a virtual graduation for the class of 2020. Home From College creates a community of like-minded students learning from professionals who have been in their shoes.

Jackie Dowden, a junior interior design student at Abilene Christian University in Texas, is required to fulfill an internship credit in order to graduate. Normally, that 160 hours of work is reserved for the summer following junior year. 

“Every day, I’m waiting for one of my professors to address this issue, but nothing yet,” Dowden said. 

Haber said she’s always been an advocate for the college student population. She said her main goal is to provide them with opportunities and create experiences that weren’t accessible before.  

“My thesis has always been that there’s not a brand out there specifically for college students,” Haber said. “There isn’t one company that’s there for them for every struggle, and this is now the time to build that.”

Grace Feuchter is a sophomore media arts and design major at JMU. Her remote social media marketing internship began amid the peak of the pandemic. 

“There are times I log on to work and am told there’s nothing for me to do,” Feuchter said. 

Feuchter said she sees a platform like Home Frome College as very essential during this time.

“I definitely think it will help me stay inspired, something I’ve been lacking recently as I think many of us have been,” Feuchter said. “This is a great time to really prepare ourselves for the future and add a level of purpose.” 

Every week, three five-to-seven-minute videos highlighting a different industry will go up, with a live Q&A on Fridays. The platform is custom-designed for students and with students for the optimum curated experience. 

“We intentionally have 95% of the work being done by college students,” Haber said. “We could’ve hired a PR company and a content team of professionals, but we hired content creators, YouTubers and people who are in our age demographic to create the content that’s as relevant as possible.”

Andrea Anaya, a corporate intern at WAYV, has worked with Haber for the past nine months as a point of contact for student involvement. She analyzes data and focuses on operations. As a sophomore hotel administration major at Cornell University, Anaya has been part of this project from its inception and throughout the very “fast-paced” process, as she described it. 

“It’s really exciting to see, within three weeks, how much it’s gone from an idea to execution, and to see the students becoming more and more involved and engaged with the concept because it is so exciting for all of us,” Anaya said. “There are so many opportunities that can come from this.”

Haber said that when she realized she couldn’t build the new company she intended to allow in-person connection, she had to adapt. She wanted to build a platform to benefit college students, a population she said she believes is currently vulnerable, as they don’t have the same access they once did. 

“I think the reason this is relevant right now is because we have people’s attention,” Haber said. “The goal is to be a kind of supplemental brand that works in conjunction with colleges and in partnership with students to help them better prepare for life.” 

Contact Brianne Petrone at petronbd@dukes.jmu.edu For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.