Sarah Adams, Twin Cities executive director of the BrandLab, is remaking the nonprofit’s key summer internship program to offer virtual marketing-industry opportunities to students of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“You can’t cancel creativity,” Adams said, emphasizing the BrandLab’s message to its 75-plus student interns and 150 partners among advertising agencies and corporate creative departments.

The interns, high school participants in the BrandLab classroom workshops and college students returning after past internships, were to complete eight-week paid internships at agency and corporate offices, Adams said.

The stay-home order issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic, however, forced a rapid pivot to make the internships virtual. Adams hopes donors will help provide computers and internet access or hot spots students need to work remotely.

“We still want to give our students real work that they can be proud of,” Adams said. “Our partners are pivoting with us and they’re in full support of us. I think it’s going to turn out for the better.”

The BrandLab supports young people of diverse backgrounds in pursuing careers in marketing. A 2018 BrandLab report found that 10% of employees at Twin Cities advertising agencies were people of color while people of color overall account for 20% of Minnesota’s population.

The next such study will come in January, BrandLab CEO Ellen Walthour said.

“We want to change the face and the voice of the marketing and advertising industry,” Adams said. “Our philosophy is you can’t ask for a job if you don’t know that it exists.”

Adams joined the BrandLab as Twin Cities director in January with experience in building internship programs, college admissions recruiting and development.

Q: How else can the community support the BrandLab’s summer interns?

A: Many of our students rely on the BrandLab’s lunch program during the summer. Since we are not able to meet in person and provide students with lunch this year, we are reaching out to our community to help support a BrandLab intern by providing a grocery gift card for them. This small donation will go a long way with our students. People can help with this by visiting our website.

Q: Why should agencies support the BrandLab?

A: If you want to change your organization and the industry, take this small step and expose yourself and give a student an opportunity to be exposed to this world. Not only is that student learning through their time with you but I’m sure that partner is going to learn something as well. Taking time to learn about other cultures and other people is not only going to provide good feelings but also is going to help your business.

Q: Why did you want to join the BrandLab?

A: I’ve always had a passion for youth and students, especially students who may come from diverse backgrounds. My background in education and my love for propelling students into where they want to go and seeing them reach their highest potential drew me to the BrandLab. … I have two boys who are adopted from Africa so seeing their cultural differences and exposing them to the world that we live in here is exciting. I hope through the BrandLab that other people will be able to do that with the students that we serve.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is