The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the spring academic semester for students around the country and, for many, it has also significantly affected their internship and job plans, many of which have been altered, put on hold or canceled.
Matthew Low, a junior electrical engineering major, planned to spend his summer researching and learning about cybersecurity at Old Dominion University as part of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates program. The program was scheduled to last 10 weeks, included housing and a stipend as well as the opportunity to work closely with a mentor and participate in several excursions and events. Low was notified in April that the program was canceled for 2020.
“The NSF doesn’t want travel right now and so they’ve shut down a lot of their programs,” said Low.
He is now unsure what his summer will look like but hopes he will still be able to do something in the same field. As a junior, Low had planned to use this time to explore his interests and help inform his decisions about the future.
“I need the experience,” said Low, “I want to go to grad school, and I want to make sure this is really something I want to do. I wanted to be able to use this research as a test to see if I really enjoy it.”
Branden Grimmett, associate provost for Career and Professional Development (CPD) at LMU, is sympathetic to the challenges that many students such as Low are facing due to the pandemic.
“I want to acknowledge that it’s painful and difficult as a student to have worked so hard for an internship or research experience and have it not happen,” Grimmett said.
However, he hopes students are able to treat these challenges as a learning experience and a chance to seek out new opportunities, which he believes CPD is equipped to help with. Although CPD has had to cancel the in-person career events and services they would normally offer, Grimmett says they have been working hard to transition to an online format to serve students' unique needs during this time. CPD has hosted 64 virtual events since March 16, including webinars and information sessions, which have been attended by 410 students, according to Grimmett.
“To me those numbers tell me that there’s a lot of belief in what we’re doing,” Grimmett said.
Victoria Arévalo Moreno, a senior communication studies major, said she attended three of these webinars in the last week. She has utilized CPD resources since her first year at LMU and credits appointments she made with career coaches and advisors with helping her land an internship this spring with KABC TV as a sports news intern. Her internship began in January but was cut short due to the pandemic.
“Because I worked in sports, my internship was canceled even before a lot of others,” Arévalo Moreno said. “Sports was one of the first things to go and if there’s no sports I have no job.”
She was initially scheduled to work through May. As a senior, Arévalo Moreno had been counting on this paid internship to provide a cushion of time to prepare for the future after graduation.
“It was hard to go from thinking I had an extra month to figure things out to not having that anymore,” said Arévalo Moreno. “I was going to use the month of May to still work my internship, but without school so all of my effort would be in my internship and job searching. But now things have changed.”
Arévalo Moreno is not alone in having her plans interrupted. Elizabeth Connolly, the assistant director of alumni engagement and liberal arts for CPD, teaches an internship course for BCLA students and said she has witnessed effects of the pandemic on the students she works with.
“The impact that I have seen is that many students in my course had their internships end, or they transitioned to a remote role within their internship," Connolly said.
According to Grimmett, there are employers who are posting and hiring for remote positions and he encourages students to seek them out on Handshake. Arévalo Moreno said she would be open to the possibility of working a remote job or internship and understands it may be a new reality, but hopes to not have to.
“I love going into the office,” Arévalo Moreno said. “For me, especially because I had to move back with my parents and I share a room with my sister, it wouldn’t be ideal for me to have a remote position, but we have to adapt because that is the nature of things right now.”
With all the job-related challenges and stress caused by the pandemic, Arévalo Moreno said she takes some comfort in accepting that many aspects of the current situation are out of her control.
“This is such a worldwide thing and I hope that [employers] will understand,” Arévalo Moreno said. “This [COVID-19] doesn’t only affect certain people, it affects everyone.”
Connolly echoed this sentiment and advises students to focus on doing what is realistically possible during this time.
“I encourage students to think about what is within their domain of control. Whether that's networking, connecting with alumni, building their LinkedIn profile or editing their resume,” Connolly said. “This is a time when so much is out of our control. So, what are the things that we can control?”
Grimmett also added that there are some new opportunities presented by the current situation.
"People that were previously not accessible, are suddenly very accessible," Grimmett said. "Everyone is working from home right now. I think students will be surprised by how willing people are going to be to speak to them and to provide help, mentorship and guidance and perhaps even to ask them to get involved in their organization."