By Joe Garvey

Old Dominion University’s 2023-2028 strategic plan, “Forward-Focused: Where Innovation Meets Possibilities,” established a goal of having 100% of students participate in internship/work-based learning opportunities before graduation by 2027.

To help achieve that objective, the University has created the Monarch Internship and Co-Op Office and hired an executive director: Barbara Blake Gonzalez, formerly chief administrative officer of the Strome College of Business’ Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy.

This new office will:

  • Provide internship and co-op advising and support to students.
  • Develop and maintain internship and co-op partnerships with employers.
  • Coordinate placements with those employers.
  • Work with academic departments to expand the work-based learning curriculum.
  • Respond to community feedback seeking stronger internship partnerships.
  • Serve as the central unit for administratively supporting work-based learning initiatives at ODU.  

It expands upon the University’s “Experience Guaranteed” effort, which was launched in spring 2020 through a task force initiative involving faculty, staff, students, business partners and employers.

“I am thrilled about being involved in this exciting initiative and being able to make a lasting impact on the growth and success of all ODU students.” - Barbara Blake Gonzalez

Brian Payne, vice provost for academic affairs, noted that President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., “recognized the need to do things differently in order to better prepare students and serve the community.” President Hemphill asked that a unit be created to provide the infrastructure and support needed to work toward the 2027 goal, Payne said.

The office will be housed in the Academic Success Center. Blake will lead a team of three other full-time staffers.

Plans call for four initiatives to be aligned with the new office:

  • The activities of associate vice president for corporate partnerships.
  • The activities of the associate vice president for maritime initiatives.
  • The Regional Internship Collaborative.
  • The Experience Guaranteed program.

“Dr. Blake will leverage her research, leadership and community engagement experience to enhance internship and co-op opportunities for ODU students,” said Daniela Cigularova, assistant vice president at the Academic Success Center, in announcing Blake’s appointment. “Her vision and dedication will play a pivotal role in developing high-impact experiences and programs that bridge the gap between academia and industry and advance internship and co-op initiatives at Old Dominion University.”

“I am thrilled about being involved in this exciting initiative and being able to make a lasting impact on the growth and success of all ODU students,” said Blake, who assumed her new role on June 26.

She added that the establishment of the Internship and Co-Op Office “represents a significant advancement for the University.” She explained that it will streamline processes and encourage collection and analysis of data on participation rates (including specific areas where participation might be lower than desired); student outcomes; employer feedback; and industry trends. She will collaborate with academic departments and industry partners as well as the University-wide Excellence in Internships and Co-Ops Commission and Internship Administrative Council.

“This development is crucial for the University,” Blake said. “It allows for targeted improvements, evaluation of existing programs and informed decision-making to better align internships, co-ops and other work-based learning opportunities with the evolving needs of students and other stakeholders.”

The office will also coordinate with internship efforts in ODU’s colleges.

“Together, we can ensure a cohesive and comprehensive approach to internships across the University as we provide students with enhanced internship experiences that align with their academic goals, foster their professional development and increase their employability prospects,” Blake said.

Blake’s numerous committee memberships and advisory roles during her time at the Dragas Center have helped foster collaboration among academia, businesses and organizations. She has served on the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) Executive Board and the Norfolk Tourism Foundation Board of Directors, and was a 2022 Inside Business "Women in Business" awardee. She is also a member of the LEAD Virginia state leadership Class of 2023 and recipient of the 2023 ODU J. Worth Pickering Faculty Administrator of the Year.

Additionally, she has worked with the Council for Community and Economic Research National Professional Development and Training Committee and the Hampton Roads Local Market Selection Committee for the Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Grant Program.

“Through my work at the Dragas Center since 2015, I have developed a strong research background, which includes publications and presentations on topics such as workforce development, wage gaps, leadership gaps, brain drain and regional economic analysis,” she said. “This research expertise allows me to bring a deep understanding of the dynamics and trends in the workforce to inform internship and co-op programs.”

To contact the Monarch Internship and Co-Op Office, call 757-683-JOBS or email