In response to internship and job complications due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Colgate seniors Nick Diebold, Graham Russel and Cole Bligh joined together to found the Raiders Business Assistance Cooperative (RBAC). Working with about 40 Colgate students and 16 businesses, the RBAC was able to compensate students who lost their internships and businesses struggling as a result of the pandemic.
The RBAC leadership team consisted of Diebold as the Chief Operating Officer, Russel as the Chief Executive Officer, Bligh as the Chief Technology Officer, and senior Mick Leonard as the Communications Coordinator. Diebold and Russel spoke about the ways in which they allowed students to gain valuable work experience while giving back to the Colgate community.
“We knew businesses in Hamilton were struggling,” Russel said. “A lot of companies came to us and said ‘our websites are outdated,’ ‘we don’t have a social media presence’, ‘we need a way to be able to work digitally and offer products to our customers.’ So basically, what we’d do was get students to approach and say ‘this is something I wanna do, I wanna do web-developing, marketing, financial analysis.’ And we’d find companies to match us with internships.”
Although the program still coordinated with a business in California and one in New York City, of the 16 businesses the RBAC paired students with, the majority were locally-owned in Madison County. Most companies expressed needing technological assistance, which included updating websites, improving marketing tactics and incorporating social media presence.
Senior Julia Lindsey, a marketing and research intern, reflected on how her virtual experience working primarily with Mansion on the Green and Holocomb’s B&B, two Bed and Breakfast businesses in Hamilton, differed from a summer opportunity she would have expected.
“Our work helped me develop some practical skills in regard to running a business,” Lindsey said. “It was unique in that we got to work to help businesses we truly love and care about in Hamilton. Valuewise, it gave me a greater appreciation for small business owners and all of the hard work and passion that goes into operating their businesses.”
Junior Michele Shannon expressed a similar sentiment about the program.
“The pandemic has increased uncertainty and stress for everyone, and the RBAC helped both students and businesses succeed,” Shannon said. “I was able to explore my interests and the Hamilton businesses were able to benefit from the added help.”
Students like Lindsey and Shannon felt as though this opportunity not only provided them with a useful skill set and work experience, but also enhanced their connectivity with and gratitude for Hamilton’s local businesses.
Diebold and Russel expressed similar sentiments. Having both lost their pre-Covid summer opportunities, the two reflected on how they benefited individually, alongside their peers, from founding RBAC.
“Going into senior year, the junior summer internship is really critical,” Russel said. “Lots of [students] are able to either convert it into a full time offer or use it to gain those valuable skills that workers expect. It was an opportunity for us to gather those skills both on our end and to help out a lot of our friends and other people we knew who weren’t able to get those necessary skills at the time”
Diebold echoed Russel in explaining that the RBAC was an opportunity for all parties to benefit.
“I think for me, I’ve never been put in a position like this before,” Diebold said. “We wanted Hamilton to be the same place that it was when we left and that was probably our biggest goal, and I’m glad we got to do something to help with it.”