The participants of the Washington, D.C., summer program take a picture at the End of Program Banquet July 21. Due to the small group size, senior Talia Nascimento said the students were able to create an intimate community. Photo courtesy of Talia Nascimento
After a year of remote work, the students in Pepperdine’s Washington, D.C., Summer Internship Program have bounced back in terms of their professional and social lives, joining internships and creating bonds with one another.
Brian Swarts — director of the Washington, D.C., program — said students partook in virtual internships over the course of the 2020-21 academic year. In the 2021 summer session, the majority of students have a hybrid set up for their internships, in which some days are in person and others are virtual.
Through implementing COVID-19 policies and learning about the effects of in-person activities on students, the D.C. program staff continues to gather information to help them prepare for the fall 2021 semester, Swarts said.
“We have a better understanding of how students use our space, what the challenges might be and also how we can overcome those challenges so students get as much of the authentic International Programs experience as possible,” Swarts said.
Students Return to Internships
Students are more likely to intern full time over the summer, Swarts said. Many students in the D.C. summer program do not enroll in classes beyond the required credit that accompanies their internships.
“We’ve had to help students learn professional skills that translate to online work environments as opposed to just in person,” Swarts said. “We’ve reminded students that both are valuable because now we’ve seen that all professionals need to be prepared to be able to work in a virtual work environment effectively.”
Junior Julie Lee said she has a full-time internship at a Virginia public relations company, Pinkston. Her internship is in person; however, Lee said she has the option to work virtually on Fridays.
“Because it is fully in person, going from online classes to just fully in person was a huge struggle,” Lee said. “I feel like my stamina for staying in one position and interacting all day really drained my social battery.”
Senior Talia Nascimento, who also serves as the D.C. program Spiritual Life Advisor, said she takes an upper division Political Science class in addition to her in-person internship at the Center for Public Justice, a faith-based and non-partisan political research organization. Nascimento said she chose to participate in the Washington, D.C., program because she hopes to attend law school and wants to gain professional experience beforehand.
“It was just hard shifting from being at home all the time to being on the train for 45 minutes each way, waking up at 6:30 and getting home at 6 o’clock and then having classes,” Nascimento said. “I probably hadn’t had a long day since I was back on campus.”
Despite the exhaustion, Nascimento said having night classes helped her adapt to long summer days.
“I definitely feel more adjusted for my senior year being on campus because I’m going to be in a Housing and Residence Life role, so it’s going to be very busy with the full schedule,” Nascimento said. “But at the same time, I do feel a lot more prepared to be thrown into law school without being like, ‘It’s gonna be perfect and amazing and easy.’”
Class of 2021 graduate Brandon Easley, D.C. program Resident Advisor, said he applied to the program knowing he would be going to law school in the city in fall 2021. Easley previously attended the program in spring 2019.
Easley is enrolled in a policy class and receives credit while interning for the Social Security Advisory Board. Easley said he received the option to work in person and found he enjoyed working virtually more, though he still has challenges adjusting being around large crowds.
“Even though I’m vaccinated and theoretically should be OK, I would still sometimes be eating out at a restaurant or walking around in this panic that there are all of these people around me — and there’s really nothing the program nor I can do to solve that,” Easley said.
Students and Faculty Adjust to COVID-19 Regulations
A normal summer session, Swarts said, is nine to 10 weeks long. The summer 2021 session, however, was only eight weeks, beginning June 3 and ending July 31, due to changes in Pepperdine’s academic calendar.
Unlike Malibu, Washington, D.C., does not have a mask mandate in place; however, the program does require unvaccinated students to wear masks in common areas such as in the co-working space for students to do virtual work alongside each other, Swarts said.
In the beginning of the summer, the D.C. program adjusted to regulations such as face coverings and capacity requirements, Swarts said. Students also provided proof of a negative COVID-19 test before and after their arrival. As Washington, D.C., and California rolled back regulations, restrictions lightened for vaccinated students.
“For the most part, we were still able to do most of the same things we did before — we just did them in a slightly different format,” Swarts said. “Having a smaller group made that a lot easier, so we didn’t have to worry as much about the size of spaces and things like that.”
Swarts said finding restaurants able to host all of the participants for group meals was one of the the biggest challenges for the D.C. staff, resulting in splitting students up or finding new restaurants.
“Obviously when they’re social distancing, it’s much harder for students to all be together at the same time,” Swarts said. “Community is a huge part of the international program, and so depending on the size, there may be some restrictions on that.”
The program also had to account for the logistics of obtaining COVID-19 test results and vaccine information and arranging check-in in June, Swarts said.
The University dictates the program’s COVID-19 policies, Easley said. Unlike other buildings in the area, the D.C. program has a no-guest rule. Overall, Easley said his role as an RA has not changed from previous years.
Participants Bond Despite Small Group Size
There was a significantly lower number of students within the program this year, Swarts said. In a usual summer, there are anywhere from 25 to 30 participants. This year, due to social distancing and precautionary requirements, there are only 10 students.
“This student group is one of the best student groups we’ve ever had in terms of how well they get along with each other — how excited they are to be on campus — because they’ve been stuck at home,” Swarts said.
Though it has been a challenge, Lee said she is slowly becoming more accustomed to being around others all day, which she said will prepare her for her return to the Malibu campus in the fall.
“This was a really huge growth opportunity for me in terms of my social skills,” Lee said. “I’ve become a lot more outgoing here, and also because I feel Pepperdine has done a really great job with this program in terms of setting up events for us.”
Lee said she has become close with the other participants, and whether they are attending Pepperdine-sponsored events or going grocery shopping together, they have created a strong community.
“We want to include everybody when it’s possible, which is really great, and we have so many different interests — like, no one is interested in the same thing, so we help each other grow in that way,” Lee said. ”And we’re a diverse group as well, so I feel like we can talk about that with one another.”
In addition to growing socially, Lee said the D.C. program has helped her solidify her professional goals.
“This entire time that I’ve been in college, I’ve just been speculating about what I want to do — but now I actually get to put it into practice through an internship,” Lee said.
As SLA, Nascimento said she holds small group sessions once a week for students to connect with each other, reflect on the week and pray. Since the participants are so close with one another, each meeting has a good turnout, Nascimento said.
Easley said he feels more comfortable with the concept of meeting new people after a year of little contact, and the program has helped him adjust to a strict schedule.
The other participants, Easley said, became close quickly. Where in his past abroad experience it took students months to bond, this group connected in a matter of weeks.
“Everybody was in the headspace of being exhausted by COVID, wanting a new experience, wanting professional development, wanting to meet new people, and we all came here with that social aspect in mind,” Easley said.
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