Online, canceled internships pose challenge for students needing credit

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many students' plans last summer by internships and jobs being canceled, postponed or moved. (Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)

Adam Meng, junior in mechanical engineering, planned to spend the summer of 2020 interning with CNH Industrial in Wichita as a design engineer, but like many other Kansas State students, COVID-19 forced his plans to change.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many students’ plans last summer by forcing employers to cancel, postpone or move student internships and jobs.

Some K-State students reached out to the Career Center after their internship circumstances changed.

“Last year about this time, the main questions and concerns the Career Center received from students were from those needing to do a summer internship for graduation credits,” Kerri Keller, executive director of the Career Center, said.

Keller said many departments across the university require internship credits. Therefore the university and department faculty worked with individual students to foster solutions.

Last summer, many employers pivoted and offered virtual internships for students, Keller said. But nearly a year later, some students say they are still suffering the repercussions of their internship plans being shifted.

As COVID-19 continued progressing in 2020, CNH notified Meng in mid-April that his internship was canceled and would not be rescheduled.

“Even though I was frustrated my internship was canceled, I was able to stay close to home and worked in a shop nearby that I had worked in previously where I was paid more and didn’t have to spend as much time driving,” Meng said.

Meng wasn’t the only one whose plans changed. As cases increased and internships changed, the Career Center explored the impact on both employers and students. Students use internships to gain experience, build networks, develop connections and help with college expenses.

“The Career Center did a survey on internship employers, students and faculty to report any canceled internships and what we found was many employers still compensated students financially for their summer in various ways,” Keller said.

However, there are still some things students lost.

“Not having any internship experience makes it difficult finding higher-level internships or a job after graduating too,” Meng said.

Meng plans to intern — in person — with AGCO in Hesston, Kansas, this summer as a design engineer with hopes to gain experience and connections before graduating in May of 2022.

Meng isn’t the only student that experienced internship frustrations last year.

According to CNBC, last summer, about 40 percent of employers shifted their internship program to a virtual platform, 40 percent delayed the start of the internship and 20 percent reduced the number of interns on their team.

Reed Krewson, junior in political science, interned with Dr. Barbara Bollier during her campaign for the U.S. Senate. He interned from October 2019 until November 2020.

“Before COVID, I was working on projects with Senator Bollier in her house, and very abruptly, I began working online,” Krewson said.

Krewson said his summer months were spent completing administrative tasks, creating Excel spreadsheets and doing office mechanics. He said working remotely was strange because he had no interaction or personal contacts.

“Working remotely did not make me as efficient — I got burned out quickly and didn’t want to do my work, but as the semester started, we began working with volunteers, so I was able to connect with a lot of volunteers within the first congressional district,” Krewson said.

Even though completing internship tasks online was a struggle for Krewson, he said he’s glad he took the opportunity because it was a way to apply academic learning in an environment that promoted his professional development.

Keller said college students at K-state and across the country have shown a lot of persistence and adaptability through this very unusual time.

Amber Oerly, senior in agricultural economics, said she was looking forward to her summer internship with Rabo AgriFinance in Manhattan until the company changed plans and canceled it.

Oerly said the agricultural economic curriculum at K-State does not require taking an internship, but she wanted to intern with Rabo because of its prominent industry work and the opportunity to study finance more in-depth.

“I talked with one of my mentors, and she was able to find me a job working as a contract intern remotely, working for the National Grazing Lands Coalition and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. This internship allowed me to continue learning new things while giving me the opportunity to intern, even if it was remotely,” Oerly said.

Oerly started working remotely 20 hours a week, writing literature reviews about grazing management and the benefits of cattle on grasslands and creating email newsletters.

“I hadn’t ever worked virtually in the past, so trying to manage my online work, spend time with family and assist Dad on the farm was difficult,” Oerly said.

Unlike Oerly, Jason Defisher, graduate student in K-State’s public health program, said he was satisfied with his hybrid format internship.

“Because the program requires 240 hours of field experience, I decided to do the internship option instead of a non-thesis program to gain more hands-on experience,” Defisher said.

Defisher’s internship with the Riley County Health Department started remotely and then transitioned to an in-person format.

“Starting out in a nontraditional way gave me as an intern plenty of time to review the literature and get a foothold on the project before jumping into working as a full group focusing on one big project,” Defisher said. “COVID halted many plans for internships, but both K-State students and internship providers were able to adapt and create an environment that allowed students and employers to share knowledge and skills despite the pandemic.”

As students transition into numerous summer internships in a few weeks, Keller said there are still internships continually listed through Handshake and reminds students the Career Center is available if any challenges or issues arise.

“I do think there are still ways students can continue to grow and develop their skills, even during a really challenging time,” Keller said.