By Madison Shaw
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a shift in everyone’s lives in one way or another. Internships and programs offered to Worcester State students have ceased, shifted, and in some cases, excelled. Worcester State faculty have maintained access to these programs through a number of modalities to keep students engaged.
The Binienda Center for Civic Engagement under Mark Wagner generates internships, fellowships, and community engagement programs to solve problems within the Worcester community. Some programs and events have continued in person as some work simply cannot be done virtually.
“We did a major food distribution event in January in the north lot at Worcester State where we teamed up and partnered with the Woo Sox, United Way, Ocean State Job Lot, and others and we worked outside,” Wagner said. “We had people drive up and we put boxes of food inside their car so it was a non-contact event.”
Wagner shared that some groups have continued to meet via Zoom. Clubs such as Model U.N. have continued virtually and some events have been well attended.
“In the fall we had a debate about Ranked Choice voting,” Wagner said. “We had more than 300 people on the Zoom for that discussion. If we did that on campus we would have maybe 50-70 kids. In some ways Zoom allows us access to these programs a little more easily.”
Wagner also shared that there are some programs that have had to come to a complete stop until in-person meeting is possible again. His annual Spring Break trip to the Florida Keys to work with Growing Hope, a program that builds and transforms sustainable communities has taken a pause, although he is hopeful that they can resume in March of 2022.
Career Services coordinates with employers to make opportunities available to students. Jillian Anderson, Director of Career Services, was able to provide some answers as to how employers have adjusted and what opportunities are available. Some fields were able to make virtual internships work while some had to stop all together. Healthcare internships are an example of a field that was slowed and just about stopped. Human services such as ABA therapists and paraprofessionals are continuing over Zoom, similar to the virtual learning that many schools have adopted, but still face challenges. Marketing, business, and social media industries have adapted almost seamlessly. STEM internships have continued, with many still in-person and following stringent safety protocols such as COVID testing, social distancing, and capacity limits.
With regard to engagement with students Career Services has seen a mixed bag, but overall a lot of reflection has come from this time. Many students have shifted focus as they gained perspective from the pandemic. Anderson shared that this has been the case especially among students pursuing work within the healthcare system or public health arena. She encourages students to continue to pursue internships and gain exposure to the working world.
The final and perhaps most important perspective is that of the student who has experienced an internship within the pandemic.
“This semester I am interning in the University’s Communications & Marketing Department under Kristen O’Reilly,” said Patrick Young. “And it has been a great experience so far. With a full schedule of digital classes and being a commuter student, I’m never on campus, and so all my communications are over email and Zoom. Despite the pandemic, my work has not been hampered nor has our communication. Thanks to the structure of my internship, writing weekly articles for the official school news site, I am able to receive an assignment every week and reach out to the appropriate sources accordingly all without physical contact. I still get guidance and feedback from my mentor, I am still gaining experience writing on deadlines, and the ball keeps moving along.”
A common theme among faculty members was the importance of internships and the value they bring to one’s resume. Regardless of the pandemic there are plenty of ways to boost your resume and gain experience in the working world. There are several modes through which you can pursue internships and community outreach depending on your level of safety and comfort. The possibilities and opportunities are still available to students and are still considered a vital part of the college experience.