Webinar Recap: Leading University Relations Programs in the New Normal

Panelists: Angie Wesley, SVP, global head of talent acquisition at TIAA; Lissiah Hundley, head of strategic partnerships and client fulfillment at DiversityInc

Angie Wesley, the senior vice president and global head of talent acquisition at TIAA led DiversityInc’s August 20 webinar to discuss how her company has remained in beneficial relationships with colleges and universities despite the coronavirus pandemic forcing students home. When the pandemic hit the U.S., changes to daily life were rapid, and TIAA had to quickly adapt to ensure they were continuing to invest in young, prospective talent.

“This hurdle challenged us all to think deeply about what we stand for,” Wesley said. “What’s our brand, and what do we do? How do we achieve? What best aligned to our goals, and who we are? … What are we investing in? We’re investing in our early talent.”

Key Takeaways

  • Maintaining connections with universities remained essential even as studies switched to being entirely online. TIAA just had to get creative with its virtual approach.
  • When it came to TIAA’s internship program, leadership had to work to ensure interns felt supported and engaged remotely.
  • TIAA maintained its partnerships with colleges’ student career offices, the company’s affinity organizations and student programming by staying in touch with campus offices through the pandemic.
  • TIAA found it was able to still offer resources to colleges and universities remotely.


Prior to the pandemic, TIAA had accepted 212 students into its internship program. When COVID-19 caused many internship programs to be cancelled, TIAA decided to honor the commitment it made to those 212 people, Wesley said.

“We came together,” she said. “We didn’t want to shift our focus. We wanted to keep moving forward. So, we honored those commitments to the interns, we preserved our partnerships with our institution, and then we worked on essentially taking what was still the same outcomes we hope to achieve and worked with our leaders and worked with our schools to continue to develop a plan.”

The plan involved creating an online intern hub that allowed interns to keep track of their projects. Interns were also broken up into classes to help facilitate discussions and collaboration, and TIAA also utilized the services of a third-party program called Piazza. There was also an intern SharePoint that allowed students to view programming information and the calendar of virtual events.

TIAA created a team to help support the interns in all aspects of their well-being during the stress of the pandemic. Classes met weekly and were able to discuss the peaks and valleys of their experiences while also completing discussions and challenges. They even integrated some lighthearted activities, like a meme challenge that allowed interns to share comical commentary on their remote experience.

Interns still had the benefit of leadership exposure as well. They were tasked with creating presentations. After workshopping these presentations, the best ideas were presented to senior leadership. The creators of most effective presentations were awarded $10,000 they could donate to a charity of their choice.

The internship program had six private virtual luncheons with executives, four separate virtual engagements with TIAA’s CEO, a fireside chat, a speaker series and even a hackathon. It also performed pulse surveys to assess engagement, which ended up remaining high throughout the whole program.

Maintaining Relationships With Colleges

“It was imperative that we cultivate dynamic partnerships that produce diverse talent acquisition,” Wesley explained. “It strengthens our employer brand. It promotes our growth and develop our talent.”

TIAA kept in touch with campus offices and organizations it was partnered with to offer support. In the past, TIAA’s support looked like offering its facilities to partners looking to host events and conferences. During the pandemic, their form of support changed, but TIAA found it was still able to invest in its partners.

“We found that we were still able to provide skilled volunteers and thought leaders to help continue our outreach with a lot of these schools, and a lot of these affiliate groups … We just had to get creative and how we did it,” Wesley said. TIAA also listened to students’ voices in assessing what kind of resources their schools needed. “I think because of the pandemic we had to stop for a second and really listen and really support.”

A Focus on HBCUs

TIAA also gave extra attention to the historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) it was partnered with due to the pandemic’s known disproportionate effects on communities of color. After listening to representatives of these institutions, TIAA identified three areas of need: emergency funds, technology and mental health support.

TIAA re-allocated part of its partnership funding to the Thurgood Marshall COVID-19 Relief Fund and created a student wellness kit which included information on how to maintain mental wellness during the uncertain, stressful time.

TIAA also converted its annual online HBCU Early Career Insights program to virtual.

“We believe by transforming that to virtual still represents a great opportunity for us to expand our outreach and provide great visibility, and ensure that we can build upon our HBCUs strategy, and touch some students, and give them the opportunity to learn about TIAA,” Wesley said.

TIAA supported students virtually in other ways as well, like helping them with their LinkedIn profiles and interviewing and social media skills.

“There are just lots of things that we’ve learned from this experience,” Wesley said. “The positives that we’ve gotten to take out of it, that we’d never would’ve expected when we started this work, and all in all, it was just far better experience than we ever expected it could be.”

View the full webinar presentation here.

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