“Learners of today cannot hope for just an academic qualification to offer them all their career goals on a platter,” says Aravinda Ram on Botho University’s partnership with NEXSTEP

NEXSTEP provides experiential learning programs throughout Asia, believing that time spent on the ground immersed in new surroundings is the best way to change a young person’s life. Students participating in NEXSTEP’s programs – from all over the world – report a paradigm shift in their worldview and capacity post-internship.

We offer study abroad opportunities, internships, study tours and learning expeditions so that there is something to suit every student’s needs. Immersion and integration are at the heart of all that we do, as is student happiness. We help our students face new and exciting challenges in unique ways, allowing them to broaden their interests and experience and add to their skill sets as individuals capable of taking on anything that comes their way.

Real-world learning is a key ingredient of career success post-schooling, but it also greatly impacts who you become as an individual. Expanding access and enabling students to pursue their passions can shift life trajectories and goals. By focusing on ground integration, we are changing the lives of our students and their communities.

The partnership with Botho University

NEXSTEP recently had the opportunity to partner with Botho University, an African on-campus and distance-learning institution based in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini. Botho University students had the opportunity to participate in internship experiences through NEXSTEP’s advanced experiential learning program. 

We spoke to Aravinda Ram, the Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Employability and Technology at Botho University, about the experience of partnering with NEXSTEP for the students and the institution. With an extensive and expert background in technology and software development, Aravinda now leads the University’s IT Infrastructure and Employability and Entrepreneurship portfolio. Knowledgeable, focused, and welcoming, Aravinda talked to us about her experience helping facilitate the partnership with NEXSTEP.

She shared that it was the University’s first time working with NEXSTEP and that, thankfully, the reviews of this session are overwhelmingly positive. Nineteen interns participated in the program, which was kept tactfully small the first time, allowing for personalized feedback time and individual attention for the students.

“Both parties shared notes constantly to ensure that the outcomes expected of the students credit based learning module were achieved. In my observation, NEXSTEP has been flexible to consider our requests and customize the program accordingly right from the beginning. They were also willing to work with our established documentation and deadlines and this was very helpful to ensure these interns did not require too much rework on our established internship process.”

For Aravinda and the University, it was important that the internship complemented the students’ studies rather than adding to their workload or requiring more schooling hours to fulfill requirements in the long run. NEXSTEP worked with them to ensure that the experience was integrated into their curriculum, fulfilling pre-existing requirements and eliminating undue stress.

When it comes to what the University hopes to achieve with these partnerships for themselves as an institution and what they hope it means for students in the country, Aravinda says that “Singularly we are keen to help our students gain exposure to remote working and international employers. For our students it means access and also evaluating themselves as part of a global workforce.” 

The connection and sense of capability that NEXSTEP internships instill in participating students is a key factor in their success on the global stage. Knowing themselves capable of adapting to and flourishing in a new environment – virtually or in-person – expands the bubble of what they once considered possible and opens students’ eyes to the global workforce.

For the university, participating in the program “means that we as an institution can also objectively assess if we are equipping our students with all the necessary skills and knowledge to make our students attractive to employers from abroad. Virtual internships overall have been a very humbling and crucial exercise for our academics and student services teams. And it is to our students credit that they have done very well and given all of us the hope and evidence that a Botho University education is internationally competitive and indeed produces students who are able to learn on the go and reorient themselves to the needs of their employer irrespective of their location or background.” 

Participation and success in NEXSTEP’s program are proof of the quality and caliber of Botho’s curriculum. Allowing students to test themselves on a global scale demonstrates their immense potential, capability, and knowledge and instills confidence in these attributes as well, helping them go on to embrace diverse work opportunities in a wide range of environments and industries.

However, it’s not all smooth sailing for the students once they land the internship opportunity. Upon completing the virtual internships, Aravinda says that “to say that students have not struggled would not be true – they have. But that’s exactly what we wanted as well. To get uncomfortable and understand that learners of today cannot hope for just an academic qualification to offer them all their career goals on a platter. There is so much more that is expected of them and by giving them this kind of exposure early enough, we hope that they are able to take stock of their situation, appreciate what they have, understand what else they need and then use their remaining time at University to back themselves up.” 

With increasingly diverse job opportunities and requirements, graduates are struggling to access their dream roles post-graduation. Having an experience like NEXSTEP’s internship under their belt, which offers real-world insight and experience in the working world, can give students a leg up and greatly aid in their ability to access their first role post-university. Although the learning curve may be a steep one, climbing it whilst still in education allows students to experience the challenge, take stock of what is ahead and circle back in their coursework and education to prepare for the future. Rather than being caught off guard and struggling with employability, Botho University students post-NEXSTEP now know not only what to expect from the job market but have a greater sense of what they bring to the table as well.

“The feedback from the NEXSTEP experience has been diverse – from those with a seeming overload of work to being put directly in front of clients to having to learn new technologies and new methods of communication, but all agree that this has been an intense learning experience and well worth it so much so that majority of them feel thankful for the opportunity and would highly recommend it to others,” explains Aravinda. 

A collective commitment to student growth

Both NEXSTEP and Botho parallel each other in commitment to student experience and growth. In terms of recent challenges, Aravinda says that, like many educational institutions, “COVID threw […] a curveball, but we had the courage to embrace the challenge and see what we can do to still offer our learners an effective learning experience where an internship and the ability to gain valuable practical experience was still possible.” Many internship and exchange programs were curtailed with global quarantine and travel restrictions the past few years; virtual internships such as this one with NEXSTEP can allow students to move beyond their home spheres whilst never leaving their hometown.

When asked what makes Botho special, Aravinda says confidently, “In short, we dare to go where others may not venture first.” Botho has the expertise and incredibly high quality of education to attest to this, consistently pushing the cutting edge of what they can offer their students to best succeed in the business world.

“We also back ourselves with a lot of planning and thought, give every new partnership our best efforts and monitor it closely to understand if it works for our academic and strategic goals. We also have a propensityfor embedding technology into as many of our initiatives as possible so virtual internships with partners like NEXSTEP is quite a logical progression for us,” Aravinda explains. Integrating technology at all levels of the education process helps students access unique and myriad opportunities around the globe, opening the world of remote work to them and allowing for flexibility despite situations such as the pandemic.

This increased familiarity with technology is being reported as a big win for students of Botho post-internship. Many students gained hands-on learning in their company placements and familiarized themselves with both new and old software throughout their experience. This has had a major impact on their studies and future career goals, with Aravinda saying that “the biggest win is confidence – students start unsure and potentially a bit scared when having to deal with these multicultural teams and a completely different accent and work culture on technologies they may have never heard before. But as they stumble and learn to ask for help they seem to develop their self esteem and eventually many of them report to actually enjoy the discomfort as it pushes them.”

“One thing is for certain with virtual internships – even though the duration is shorter nobody ever says that it wasn’t worth it and they come away feeling like they amassed an immense amount of learning in such a short period of time.”

With remote working arrangements increasing globally and revolutionizing the workforce, Botho’s partnership fits right in. Equipping students with the skills and background to feel comfortable in this sort of position and environment translates directly into their future career success and professional adaptability.I think we are totally on point with our leap to offering virtual internships for credit,” shares Aravinda. “The cohort numbers may be small but it also allows us to ensure that they are high quality and properly supported.”

“With a virtual internship on their CV, students immediately open their realm of possibility and can apply for jobs anywhere. Their interaction with global employers and working in diverse teams really gives them tremendous exposure not just to new technologies and skills but in general, shapes their personalities and gives them confidence. They are starting to use platforms like LinkedIn a lot more effectively for professional networking and seeking more opportunities to attend webinars and training online to keep themselves on-trend. All of these are healthy developments for our students, and partners like NEXSTEP help us tremendously in making these strides.”

Beyond participating in virtual internships such as the NEXSTEP program, Botho University is taking further steps to help prepare its students for the workforce post-graduation through its student and graduate employability efforts. “With the realization that students need more than an academic qualification to be globally competitive, Botho University offers its students numerous avenues to be job ready. Our Botho Graduate Profile (BGP) is central to this mission and all our employability efforts are centered around this mission,” Aravinda tells us.

“From career development training, workshops, exposure to voluntary and mandatory internships, community engagement, leadership development to providing them one-on-one career support and assistance, be it CV writing, interview preparation, LinkedIn usage, communication and study skills. There is a lot that we offer, but most importantly, we constantly remind students to take advantage of all that is available to develop themselves into a potentially irresistible candidate for employers.”

Looking ahead

In the future, in terms of continuing the partnership, Aravinda says that [Botho] “do not anticipate any major changes, but of course, we also want to ensure that the entire process is optimized in terms of the effort and people required. There was a lot of back-and-forth communication in this pilot cohort, but overall, we have been happy with the flexibility offered by NEXSTEP to accommodate us.”

“For now, we will continue to offer opportunities to our students going on internships to enroll with NEXSTEP. Based on our learning from this pilot cohort, both parties will have to meet to ensure that we improve our understanding and processes on both sides. 

Our hope is also that our students can not just gain valuable experience from the NEXSTEP pool of employers, but hopefully, some of them will also secure some internship extensions or full-time employment. This is really the ultimate goal for us at the Student and Alumni Affairs department and Botho University.”

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