Pandemic derails students’ internship plans
Students concerned about internship cancellations, skeptical about virtual programs
Alexander Sansolo’s wishes were granted when he got the opportunity to intern at the Magic Kingdom. Three years of college and academics left him “burnt out” but the internship was his golden ticket to the Disney “imagineering” world and a way to find his true calling.
But, unlike most Disney stories, Sansolo’s didn’t have a happy ending.
He says he was heartbroken when his internship program at Walt Disney World in Orlando came to an abrupt end due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There were a lot of tears,” the senior architecture major said.
Employees across the country have dealt with layoffs and furloughs as COVID-19 has infected over 1,000,000 people and killed almost 80,000. For students, this means cancellation of in-person classes. But many of their internships and job offers have been revoked, too. While most internship opportunities are cancelled, some are ongoing, according to UB Career Services.
Students are disappointed and afraid they’ll graduate without adequate practical knowledge in their majors, and anticipate having difficulty landing full-time jobs after graduation. Some students’ internships are ongoing virtually, but some of those students say they are concerned the remote format won’t give them the experience they want.
Fakardin Floyd, a junior computer science major, said his internship with Fannie Mae became virtual and six weeks shorter. Floyd is worried about his performance and the lack of supervision. He feels the internship might be like a “homework assignment.”
“I assume there will be a lot less supervising,” Floyd said. “… My biggest concern is that I do horrible and actually find out I don't really know how to code or I’m not prepared to do any tasks assigned to me.”
Arlene Kaukus, director of UB Career Services said a virtual internship doesn’t mean “lesser” learning, rather a “different” experience. She advised students to communicate openly with their supervisors to ensure they’re still able to meet their internship goals.
“It's a matter of having a very thoughtful and professional conversation with your internship supervisor, what you were expecting to get out of the internship, and then negotiate, how you get that, but in a remote environment,” Kaukus said.
But not all internships could be accommodated to fit the remote working style.
Sansolo’s internship was supposed to last until summer but was terminated in early March. He said Disney “phrased the program as complete,” and they were offered to pursue future roles with the company when things go back to normal. But Sansolo is attending graduate school in the fall, and won’t have the opportunity to return to Disney as an employee. Sansolo was disheartened because this was his chance to gain professional experience while doing something he loved, networking and learning from people he looked up to.
Although most internship opportunities disappeared amid the pandemic, some companies are still looking for talent. Arlene Kaukus, Director of UB Career Services, said 479 internships were posted in April and May to Bullseye Handshake, UB’s job portal.
“While there are less than there were the same time last year, they still are posting on the system,” she said.
Kaukus said students need to be more “strategic” and active to find opportunities during the pandemic. She suggested students update their online profile, highlight their extracurriculars, teamwork and leadership activities and proactively network.
Still, students are finding it difficult to navigate the job market during this time and struggling to make decisions regarding their career.
Abdifatah Adan, a junior biomedical sciences and history major, said he must choose a career path without practical experience in the field. He thought he would get “insight” in the public health field through his summer internship with the Center for Disease at University of Michigan, but it was cancelled.
“This would’ve impacted my choice on whether I pursue a Master of Public Health degree,” Adan said. “I don’t know how I’m going to further expose myself to the whole public-health area without an internship.”
Adan said he is reaching out to universities to learn more about post-graduate programs but is still struggling to make a decision about graduate school.
“I think hands-on [experience] is a lot better than just having somebody explain it to you or reading online,” Adan said.
Students are concerned losing out on these internships will lower their chances of securing full-time jobs.
Adan said he’s applying for jobs but isn’t hopeful about the outcome.
“You won’t really get hired to a job without a public health background, which I don’t have,” Adan said. “I was going to use that [internship] to get a job.”
Nelaje Branch, a junior computer science major, said she’s especially concerned about students who relied on this summer to intern.
“In the engineering world, especially in computer science, it’s a lot more difficult to be looked at for a full-time position post graduation,” Branch said. “[Internship cancellations] puts those students at a major disadvantage.”
Branch was “disappointed” and “frustrated” after her internship with M&T Bank got cancelled. She said she was excited for the internship because it was “exactly” what she wanted to pursue after graduation.
“My first internship was in commercial goods, my second in government work,” Branch said. “This would’ve been my first taste in finance, a topic I’m really interested in.”
Kaukus said UB is trying to help students cope with the disappointment and sadness of the situation through virtual coaching sessions. She encouraged students to volunteer at non-profits to gain project management skills, pursue personal projects and online classes to build their “skill bank” if they don’t have an internship.
“The important thing is to recognize the loss, but don’t stop there, move quickly to some sort of a plan of action.”
Anastasia Wilds and Vijay Maheshwari contributed reporting to this story.
Vindhya Burugupalli is the senior multimedia editor and can be reached at email@example.com and @moonhorizon_