Senior Jon Fehrer smiles on a July backpacking trip in front of Jade Lake in Washington’s Alpines Lakes Wilderness. Fehrer, an intern for Pepperdine’s Office of Admission, said a virtual internship environment adds individualism among developing important skills but reduces professional relationships. Photo courtesy of Jon Fehrer
A pandemic upends a lot of plans, and while some plans can be postponed, most — like the cancellations of live internships — can leave students at a disadvantage.
With a lack of in-person internships available, the University changed the fall 2020 requirements for academic internships. Students are now allowed to receive credit for virtual internships, and Pepperdine students share their experiences of working remotely as they reflect on the pros and cons of their new remote environments.
“The search for an internship can be a daunting one, but finding an internship during a pandemic is a whole different ball game,” senior Cameron Cardy-Sterling said. “As companies shift their hiring processes to an online-only format, the pursuit of an internship can be even more competitive.”
Academic internships are structured, supervised, professional work experiences that allow students to learn about a sector while receiving academic credit, learning goals and reflective assignments.
College internships are an essential conduit to students’ first job after college, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Internships provide valuable work experiences for students — experiences that can’t always be found in college textbooks.
Students are sympathetic to COVID-19’s impact on employers, according to Yello’s May 2020 research on virtual internships. Of the students with rescinded internships, 70% say they are disappointed but understanding of the situation, while 26% say they are upset. In-person interviews are difficult to find because safety measures call for nonessential offices to conduct work from home, and of the employers who canceled internships, 64% offered no compensation.
The Challenges of Virtual Interviews
With remote internships as the new norm, students also face the challenge of virtual interviews.
Video interviews can be stressful for candidates who are uncomfortable using technology. Others may find discomfort being on camera and feel self-conscious. Candidates also struggle with getting a fair chance in interviews because the video acts as a barrier that keeps their personality from shining through to recruiters, according to Yello.
Junior Austin Zell experienced this firsthand as he interviewed for various virtual jobs in software engineering.
“Body language is significantly harder to see and survey on a Zoom call,” Zell said. “Having that disadvantage will prevent you from being able to understand the person you’re talking to further. The same applies for when you’re trying to sell yourself.”
As difficult as it may be to secure a virtual internship, they give students the chance to demonstrate their ability to work independently, which can be great preparation for the real world, Zell said.
Pepperdine Students Reflect on Virtual Internships
Virtual internships also provide flexibility for location and time. Students no longer need to calculate the distance and time needed to commute from school to their internships. These opportunities are also cost-effective for employers because offices no longer need to allocate additional physical workspace, according to Chegg Internship’s research on the benefits of virtual internships.
Some employers expect virtual interns to have their own computer, internet connection and basic office supplies.
Junior Nicolas Armenta said he believes it is acceptable for student interns to have basic office supplies. He disagrees, however, with the requirement for a computer and internet connection because some people have socio-economic difficulties and cannot afford a computer or an internet connection that can run certain programs.
As businesses transition to an online-only format, Pepperdine students like senior Caitlin Fogg said they enjoy the virtual experience.
“I love virtual internships because of the innate human desire to connect,” Fogg said. “While it’s not ideal to be a virtual intern, I do think it’s fun to see people’s homes and learn more about their lives. In a time of cosmic disruption, it is inspiring and humbling to feel connected, even if it’s via Zoom.”
Fogg said virtual internships provide an intimate experience with colleagues because everyone is presented with the same challenges in terms of unstable WiFi connections and frozen video screens.
Even with the technological challenges, Pepperdine followed suit when University departments like Student Affairs, Student Employment and Admissions transitioned to remote student internships.
As an intern for Pepperdine’s Office of Admission, senior Jon Fehrer believes virtual environments diminish interpersonal aspects of professionalism.
“However, since virtual work is innately individualized, there is a greater emphasis on personal initiative and task completion, which are important skills,” Fehrer said.
New University Policy for Academic Credit for Internships
Some majors at Pepperdine like Journalism, Integrated Marketing Communication and Public Relations are required to complete an internship for academic credit to graduate. In the past, Pepperdine did not offer academic credit for remote or online internships; Pepperdine’s Career Services, however, announced a COVID-19 accommodation in which Seaver College will allow remote internships to be eligible for academic credit through the fall 2020 term.
Seaver College defines an academic internship as a “structured, supervised, professional work experience within an organization,” according to Pepperdine’s Career Services. The internship must be guided by learning goals and reflective assignments, and a faculty member and internship supervisor monitor the intern’s work. The University approves all academic internships in advance, and approved students must be concurrently enrolled in academic internship units for the internship to be accepted.
Students are learning how to communicate via technology at a rate that has never happened before, and the University is making significant changes to help students receive academic credit with a remote internship this fall 2020. Some outside companies like Twitter and Square announced a “Work from Home Forever” concept in which employers can work remotely even after the pandemic. As students become accustomed to the world of remote internships, it is possible that remote internships will continue to thrive post-pandemic, according to research from The Atlantic.
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