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Internships have always been an opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience for their desired field of work and study, but COVID-19 has changed the way students find, participate in and learn in internships.
CSUSM’s Office of Internships and Service Learning put out guidelines to help students find internships that can support their education while protecting their health and safety.
One of these measures to protect students includes recommending that students opt for remote opportunities, but if that’s not possible, they require for these opportunities to abide by the COVID-19 guidelines.
“… CSUSM students may participate in on-site internship activities in the State of California provided the student and the organization follow current Federal, State and County public health guidelines effective May 19, 2020. Organizations will be required to submit evidence they are in compliance with public health guidelines,” according to one of the Career Center’s announcements.
Internships in the past have provided students an opportunity to work with professionals in their desired fields, engaging with real-world situations and processes in their daily activities. But with most online, students are restricted to assignments that work on the digital platform.
How effective can online, digital assignments be in engaging the student interns as they explore their desired field of work? Well, before we answer that, don’t forget that students must find an internship first, and that in itself has become increasingly difficult.
For Elizabeth Rojas, a fourth year political science major, the pandemic has made the internship search a lot harder than before as companies try to navigate the new guidelines.
“It’s hard because a lot of places don’t want to have interns because they’re afraid they might get COVID and they don’t want to be responsible for it. Many places are shutting their doors for students and it’s become harder because you can’t get experience at the moment,” said Rojas.
As companies and organizations must adjust to these guidelines, the number of available opportunities has reduced significantly since the start of the pandemic. For the students who opt to participate in these in-person opportunities, they face the fear of contracting COVID from their place of work.
Liliana Castillo, a third year criminology and justice studies major, expressed her concern that some organizations are not providing adequate support for their interns’ safety during this time.
“At the beginning of COVID, it impacted my life because I was terrified of going to work and I didn’t want to visit my family because of our COVID testing. Nothing was handled with caution and the organization didn’t put enough guidelines to protect me,” said Castillo.
Even if students are able to find a remote internship to be safer, it doesn’t seem likely that remote internships could provide the same educational experience that in-person opportunities have in the past, nor are all these opportunities accessible.
Students who do not have reliable internet access or technology, for example, will not be able to participate in such opportunities. For students with children, they may not be able to sit at their devices for eight or more hours a day to complete their program.
Working on the digital platform, while it may be high-speed and efficient for many, can create an unhealthy working environment for students as they sit at a desk for hours at a time without breaks and stare at their screens.
The type of assignments students can work on will also be very different. When my workplace shifted from in-person to digital assignments, the workload shifted to repetitive document review and revision compared to past assignments that introduced new concepts and processes.
The new assignments didn’t allow me to expand my understanding or knowledge base, which meant that there wasn’t a maintenance or increase of the benefit from an internship post-quarantine.
Students continue to face hardships with the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it’s trying to find an internship opportunity at all or working in an educational and safe environment. The internship experience has drastically changed – just not for the best.