A summer sans internships? No way, schools say

New look: The, um, faces of Adelphi University's 2020 Jaggar Community Fellows Program, which has pivoted its way through the Age of Coronavirus.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

With canceled internships and rescinded job offers adding insult to injury for shortchanged U.S. college students, Long Island universities are working hard to keep their flocks working this summer.

Longstanding career- and business-development programs at Adelphi University and Hofstra University have refocused their efforts through a pandemic-friendly lens, with a growing number of virtual internships and other remote-working (and remote-learning) opportunities now in play.

The need for a Summer 2020 internship overhaul is obvious: National unemployment is soaring and Washington’s disjointed, disastrous COVID-19 response has only fanned the flames, sowing confusion from state to state.

Like a virus attacking a vulnerable population, the economic chaos has systematically wiped out jobs and internships, including many already promised to collegians; aggregator Glassdoor estimates that half of all summer 2020 internships have been eliminated.

The dire conditions have spurred universities like Adelphi and Hofstra to quick action, and they’re hardly alone. The Stony Brook University Career Center, for instance, has created a pandemic-flavored Job and Internship Marketplace, packed with remote-work opportunities and a real-time internship database for both employers and student-interns.

But at Adelphi, where cornerstones like the decade-old Jaggar Community Fellows Program were in sudden and very real danger, administrators were especially proactive – reading the leaves, acting early, moving swiftly.

“We were determined to make this program happen for our students,” said Bernadine Waller, associate director of experiential learning at Adelphi’s Center for Career and Professional Development. “This is an unprecedented time – and unprecedented times call for unprecedented commitment.”

Waller heads the Jaggar Fellows program – a competitive cycle that places nongraduating students, freshmen through graduate level, in paid internships at nonprofit organizations – with Center for Career and Professional Development Executive Director Thomas Ward Jr., and the duo recognized a big problem very early.

The JCFP, which annually arranges internships for about 70 undergraduate and graduate students, had already filled its Summer 2020 cohort – and as winter turned to spring and COVID-19 spread, companies were begging out fast.

Bernadine Waller: Failure was not an option for the Jaggar Fellows.

So, the Center for Career and Professional Development “shifted gears in the midst of so many uncertainties,” Waller noted, and started asking pandemic-tailored questions: Which nonprofits were still prepared for interns? What types of internships were available? What were the safety concerns, and solutions?

The result is a leaner, meaner 2020 JCFP, which will place 40 total students – 31 undergraduates and nine graduate students – into virtual internships with nonprofit organizations. Participants will work in “small-group interdisciplinary teams” and complete projects with “weekly deliverables,” with an end-of-summer virtual presentation for Adelphi faculty and administration on tap.

Although the full cohort could not be accommodated, the 40 secured internships – at Patchogue-based Latina-immigrant services provider SEPA Mujer, New York City-based environmental nonprofit 100 For All, Costa Rican children’s cancer hospital La Fundacion Regalemos Sonrisas and elsewhere – represent a Herculean effort: The Center for Career and Professional Development partnered with the Adelphi Innovation Center to vet 20 ready, willing and able nonprofit organizations in just six weeks, a process that regularly takes up to eight months.

“At the same time we’re vetting and interviewing students, we’re also vetting and interviewing nonprofit organizations [and] prospective on-site liaisons, conducting site visits to ensure locations are safe for our interns, training nonprofit partners on how to host and manage our students – all the while, securing legal and risk-management paperwork,” Waller said.

With mountains to climb and little time to scale them, Waller and Ward faced a “tough decision” about whether to simply abandon the 2020 JCFP effort. They ultimately “decided to persist,” according to Waller, because “we have students who are counting on the Jaggar Community Fellows Program to give them the experience they need to succeed after Adelphi.”

“We have an amazing team that was able to pull off an amazing feat,” she added. “When you have a team that starts working as early as 5 a.m. and ends as late as one o’clock the next morning … now that is commitment.”

Stacey Sikes: Hofstra entrepreneurship answering the COVID-19 call.

Similar commitment is in play at the Hofstra University Center for Entrepreneurship, where nearly two dozen virtual summer 2020 internships have risen out of myriad economic-development programs.

Hofstra Executive Dean of Entrepreneurship and Business Development Stacey Sikes counted three university programs – the IdeaHUb Incubator, the Veterans Venture Challenge and the Healthcare Entrepreneurship Community Challenge – as key to the effort.

All told, Sikes noted, the three programs boast more than 50 member companies, representing a healthy cross-section of industries and opportunities – including internship opportunities and the remote-work options so important to pandemic-proof functionality.

“The students will be working on projects including go-to-market strategies, pitch preparation, financial projections and competitive analyses,” the executive dean told Innovate LI. “And everything’s virtual.

Many of the interns will do their strategizing and analyzing in June, when the semifinalists of the $100,000 Hofstra University Veterans Venture Challenge engage their annual business-building bootcamp in a virtual setting – meaning regional economics, the Hofstra community and those 20-plus summer interns all benefit from these innovations in form and function.

“Many students are having difficulty finding internships because of the pandemic,” Sikes said. “We thought it was important, this summer more than ever, to provide these opportunities to our students and our community.”