June 15, 2020

Pandemic impacts summer internship plans for many students

Christopher Lindsay

As people around the world struggle to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the current generation of young professionals is faced with tough decisions about their future as they prepare for the next steps in their journey. Many summer opportunities, including internships, fellowships, and conferences have been altered, postponed, or even canceled.

Just like hundreds of thousands of others globally, students and recent graduates are forced to adjust to a new reality. Organizations hosting interns also must adjust, and many have turned to the digital medium as an alternative.

The Entertainment Industry College Outreach Program found a successful way to put that idea into practice. The EICOP was scheduled to conduct its annual “HBCU in LA” 10-week long internship program this summer. This was originally an opportunity for students to engage in panels, workshops, and other networking opportunities while working a paid internship in their desired field.

“I was really looking forward to being able to see different parts of the entertainment field and meeting new people, so I wish it was in person… but they did a really good job of communicating,” said Justus Hawkins, a senior from Morgan State University.

Hawkins said he was worried about the status of the program shortly after other opportunities began to get canceled, but he was notified that the program would continue in an online format.

While EICOP was able to reach a happy medium and service more than 150 students from universities all over the country, other outlets might struggle with fulfilling the needs of their organizations on a smaller scale.

For instance, The Charlotte Post, a newspaper that targets the African American community in Charlotte, N.C., decided to discontinue internships for the foreseeable future.

“We do a lot of work from home, and we haven’t been able to get to a point where we are okay with providing [remote] internship opportunities,” said Herbert White, editor for the Charlotte Post.

White mentioned the amount of hands-on work that interns normally complete in a newsroom as a major reason for organizations straying away from remote opportunities and canceling their programs altogether.

Moving forward, however, White predicted a shift in the nature of permanent positions within their office. He said they could become completely mobile, and less dependent upon the physical location of the office building, but he doesn’t see a reality in which that would be the norm for incoming interns.

“Interns are usually inexperienced, and oftentimes unfamiliar with the Charlotte area, but if we’re talking about someone with five or 10 years on the job, then that would be another thing,” White said.

The Charlotte Post was still in the application process for interns when it became obvious that COVID-19 would bring changes to how many shops operate. As things continue to change, White said there could even be a possibility of revisiting the internship situation.

While some businesses are hopeful about changes in the coming months, many others have already pushed the calendar ahead to 2021.

Such is the case with Husqvarna, a Sweden-based power tool company. The company’s U.S. headquarters is in Charlotte, and Joshua Byrd, a recent graduate of UNC-Charlotte, signed on to an 18-month rotational program with Husqvarna beginning this summer. But amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, the program has been pushed back to the summer of 2021.

“It’s a pretty discouraging situation,” Byrd said, “because I didn’t really have a backup plan.”

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