Students motivated to get real-world experiences during the pandemic

(Oct. 1, 2020) – Internships are consistently rated as one of the most rewarding experiences students can have during their college career. Hands-on learning enhances classroom knowledge, develops new skills while contributing to an organization and can help a student land a job after graduation.

Like most else in society, the pandemic has altered the internship. Some internships today are remote, while others involve wearing masks, cleaning work spaces and ensuring clients they are in a safe environment.
We reached out to several students to hear about their internship experience during the coronavirus pandemic. They offered insights into why they were still motivated to complete one, the challenges they are dealing with and the opportunities available during this unique time. Responses have been edited for length.

Emma Jacobs – senior majoring in environmental science and policy

Can you tell me about your internship? What company did you work for and what job duties did you have?
I did an online internship over the summer with a carbon offset company called We Are Neutral based in Gainesville, Florida. We Are Neutral does not usually offer remote internships, but due to the pandemic, this was an opportunity I was able to pursue. One of my main tasks was to research 115 “B Corporations” and compile data on corporate-level sustainability initiatives of those companies. In a nutshell, B Corp is to business as USDA Organic is to apples and Fair Trade Certified is to coffee. It is a certificate of a company’s social and environmental responsibility, transparency, and accountability.

The second thing I did was research 40 carbon footprint calculators. These calculators help people and businesses determine how they can offset their carbon footprint. I researched competing calculators across the market to determine how we could advance the We Are Neutral carbon calculator.

Why did you want to do this internship and what experience were you hoping to get out of it?
I did this internship out of pure curiosity. My passion is sustainability, especially as it relates to how businesses incorporate such practices. I actually found out about this internship from one I did during the spring semester with Hygge Advisors, an investment ddvisory firm in St. Petersburg. They used We Are Neutral as their carbon offset company while becoming a B Corporation. I went after this internship because I was really interested to know more about the process of carbon offsetting and how to calculate a carbon footprint.

What challenges have there been with the internship due to the pandemic and social distancing?
Finding my own space to work remotely was a challenge. I was at home with my family and didn’t really have a desk, so had to move around the house to find quiet places to work. Also, it would have been a bit easier to be in the room with the people I was interning with, so when a quick question came up it would be quick and easy to get it answered.

Have there been any new opportunities or skills you learned during this unique time that you didn’t expect going into it?
I have never done so much research, a lot of online research. I gained a lot of data entry skills since I was working with spreadsheets pretty much every day, which I think is very valuable.

Anything else you like to say to students interested in internships?
Go after any internships you can get to develop the skills and experience for whatever you are passionate about. And don’t be afraid to have more than one internship throughout your college years. The more the better.

Jeffry “J.J.” Clausen Jr. – senior majoring in economics

Can you tell me about your internship. What company are you working for and what job duties do you have?
My internship is with New College of Florida and is focused on economic performance and financial architecture research. I am working with Dr. Tarron Khemraj, who is a professor at USF’s St. Petersburg campus as well as New College. I’m doing research specifically on the shadow value of real estate investments and assets.

Why did you want to do this internship and what experience were you hoping to get out of it?
I knew the traditional internship route this year would be madness due to the pandemic. I just accepted an offer to study at Cornell University for graduate school and plan to pursue a career in academics, so I was looking to find an experience that would prepare me for that. I reached out to Dr. Khemraj with this research internship idea and he agreed to work with and advise me on my work. It is almost like a pre-PhD internship, with heavy research and a tremendous amount of autonomy and accountability that sets me up for graduate school.

What challenges have there been with the internship due to the pandemic and social distancing?
You miss the ability to interface directly with people. It’s great to work with a team of people, and there is just no replacement for that. However, there is a plus side, which is that access becomes greater if you are willing to pursue it. You have the ability to interface globally with individuals. I think because there has been a behavior change over these six months, it has opened the door to connect with individuals in business or academia that you would have been too intimidated to connect with personally, but not so much virtually.

Have there been any new opportunities or skills you are learning during this unique time that you didn’t expect going into it?
I think it has re-emphasized the idea that showing up for yourself is the best way to show up for another individual. I get ready for all interactions remotely as if I am going to be in front of that individual. It puts me in the right mindset. I think it is critical to keep a routine, as if you are going to school. You have extra time now, should use it to devote to preparation.

What is the research you are conducting?
The research has to do with the shadow value of real estate within megabrand, publicly traded companies. I’m doing research that would likely be done by an investment bank, by looking at a company’s real estate assets and leveraging what they have in real estate. For example, Tesla is an electric vehicle company, but also a utility that has the largest supercharging network in the world, similar to a large gas station portfolio. You can view them as an electric car company or you can value them as a company that has massive industrial real estate (factories), energy reserves (utility) and a supercharging network (oil/gas substitute). This research is about stepping back a bit and understanding that these companies are more than just the products they sell, they are also the commercial real estate they own.

Anything else you like to say to students interested in internships?
There is tremendous opportunity in terms of access to take advantage of. The resources out there are available across campus, across the country and globally if you are willing to look through a different lens.

Jacquelyn Tully – senior majoring in biology with concentration in biomedical sciences

Can you tell me about the internship? What company are you working for and what job duties do you have?
I’m working at Mahoney Dermatology in Pinellas Park. I have been there for almost a month now. I am training as a medical assistant and doing things like taking temperatures, COVID screenings, assisting on surgeries and shadowing the doctor. I wanted to get into a dermatology office specifically because I want to be a dermatologist down the road. It’s been a really great experience so far. I feel like I am following my dreams.

Why did you want to do this internship and what experience were you hoping to get out of it?
I wanted to get clinical exposure to medicine. Eventually I plan to apply for medical school and my main goal was to get this type of position so I have a stronger application for medical school.

What challenges have there been with the internship due to the pandemic and social distancing?
Well with COVID, it was hard to find an internship in the first place, especially in a doctor’s office. I really had to work hard and reach out to secure this position. In the office, we wear masks all the time. When you are in the room with a patient, you wear a mask as well as other personal protective equipment. We also make sure everything is clean and sanitary. As a medical assistant, a big part of the job right now is to clean and sterilize the rooms for the next patient. A lot of people are concerned about the virus, so it is really important to make them comfortable and know that we are maintaining a healthy environment. We will be following these guidelines for a very long time.

Have there been any new opportunities or skills you are learning during this unique time that you didn’t expect going into it?
I’m just learning a lot when it comes to the field of dermatology through this internship, especially terms and common diagnoses. The other medical assistants here have been so helpful in my training. I want to be a physician and am just trying to learn everything and take everything in. And once my internship is done at end of this semester, I plan to continue working here in the spring as a paid medical assistant.

Anything else you like to say to students interested in internships?
If students have an opportunity to get an internship, go for it, especially in the field you want to work in. This experience has opened my eyes to this field of medicine. Experience is everything.