COVID19 and the lost summer internship. Now what?
You’re hired! Wait! Sorry, I take that back. Hang tight. We will let you know.– Just about every employer who made summer internships offers in early 2020
With 22 million US citizens out of work and another 150,000 Washington state residents filing jobless claims this week, the impact to Washington State University students and their plans for summer internships has been swift and quite frankly, devastating. In addition to teaching, most Murrow College faculty mentor students in and outside of class. We help them with internship and job searches, polishing up their resumes, and updating their LinkedIn profiles. We host guest lecturers in class, introduce students to alumni, and regularly pass along job announcements as they come through our email inboxes. We are not just professors. We are career counselors.
Spring semester is when students interview and secure summer jobs and internships. They distribute dozens of resumes for all manner of opportunities. They do phone interviews, informational interviews, and in some cases, face-to-face meetups with prospective employers. They work hard to secure their summer plans long before classes wrap up in May. This semester was no different than past years except one major impact: #COVID19 and subsequent stay-at-home orders with no reliable end date in sight. It began slowly and then the stories started to flood in through live Zoom sessions and emails…
- Internships overseas canceled
- Internships in Seattle put on hold indefinitely
- Internship offers rescinded
- Part-time jobs on campus lost
- Employment status unknown until further notice
My own children are also not immune to this phenomenon. My two college-age students were also put on-hold or had no choice but to quit their part-time jobs. Our 17yo son lost his job at a Pullman restaurant that shut its doors indefinitely. The kids even went out around town on the first week of the shutdown to talk to area grocery stores and pharmacies to see if they were hiring. No luck. It is grim and I find myself feeling defeated on how I can help them reclaim this important part of their lives and identities.
As the stories poured in from my students, I asked one if he would be willing to talk with me about his experiences and how he is feeling about the uncertainties of his immediate future – especially given the fact he is an international student and whether or not he earns an income this summer is likely to dictate whether he can stay in the states or be forced to return home to his family in Kuwait.
The student I am referring to is Sherwin Francies. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is “a detail-oriented, hardworking individual with strong writing skills and proven work ethic. Conversant in culture diversity due to exposure to international relations based on studying and living in India, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.” He is a junior at The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication pursuing a degree in strategic communication with an emphasis in public relations. He is also minoring in environmental, risk, and science communication. He has a passion for writing and storytelling, is certified in Microsoft Office and Google Analytics, and has demonstrated success in leadership, planning, and problem-solving.
He also happens to be well-spoken, kind-hearted, intelligent, team-oriented, approachable and has a terrific British accent.
Before campus shutdown orders were issued, Sherwin was a part-time IT assistant for Murrow College. That position was initially placed on hold for two weeks but has since resumed. He is the Web Publicity Manager for Cable 8 Productions and VP of Public Relations for the Jay Rockey Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) – both volunteer, unpaid positions.
Right before spring break, Sherwin secured a paid summer communications internship in Seattle with the Washington Hospitality Association. Before negotiations and logistics were finalized, however, the internship offer was put on hold until further notice. This is not a big surprise given the challenges restaurants, entertainment venues, and hotels are experiencing across the country.
So I had a virtual sit-down with Sherwin last week via Zoom. Mostly I just wanted to listen and learn – gain a better understanding of where he is given the circumstances, and what his options might be if he is unable to find employment this summer. I also want to help him and other students connect with the amazing Cougs-Hire-Cougs community and alumni businesses that may be able to offer virtual internships this summer assuming ongoing #StayHomeStayHealthy orders are extended or updated parameters limit in-office presence. Here are some highlights from our discussion…
Share a little bit about your background and the journey that brought you to Murrow College and WSU
I am originally from India but grew up in Kuwait and England. Before coming to WSU, I was living in Kuwait with my family. I was not happy with my high school format and emphasis on hard sciences, so after learning about the Running Start Program in Washington state, I attended Green River Community College. I was accepted to the University of Washington but after a tour, realized the communication department was not what I was looking for. I chose Murrow College at WSU for its reputation, access to resources and alumni, smaller community and class sizes, and ability to get real-world experience while taking classes.
Tell us more about where you are today, the internship you were granted, and the outcome now with the impact of COVID-19.
In addition to leadership roles with PRSSA and Cable 8 Productions, I work part-time for Murrow College as an IT assistant. I secured a summer communications internship with the Washington Hospitality Association in early March but was informed during spring break that the offer is rescinded until May or beyond depending on how the state responds to emerging COVID19 mandates. For now, I would like to stay in Pullman and find a position that will allow me to work remotely if being there in-person is not an option. I am willing to relocate if needed but regardless, I would like to find a job that helps me gain more experiences in writing, communications and outreach and storytelling. If I do not secure a job by June I may have to return home to Kuwait.
You are in your second semester as a strategic communication major – what are three of your main takeaways so far?
1) Creative problem-solving skills learned in every class
2) Seeking opportunities to improve and be more prepared for the real world
3) Taking advantage of the fact that I can gain experience and immediate application with opportunities at The Daily Evergreen, Cable 8, PRSSA, and Bateman Competition
As a student with two years to go until graduation, what are some things you are working on to improve that will better prepare you for a job or internship?
I am taking the time now to build my online portfolio, update my LinkedIn profile, refine my resume, conduct a personal digital audit and complete certifications in Google Ads – search and display. I am also continuing to write, tell stories, and pursue opportunities to advance both personally and professionally.
Who are the key influencers in your life?
My parents are wonderful and very supportive.
What is your philosophy on life, education, professional growth, and development?
I don’t want to work just to earn money. I want to enjoy what I do regularly – something that is sustainable and I don’t mind doing it for the rest of my life.
What is your next move? How will you overcome this adversity? What is your professional vision for the next three years?
Right now, I think the best thing for me to do update my portfolio and LinkedIn profile and apply for as many internships as I can. After graduation, I would like to work in public relations, at an agency or in government. I am also interested in graduate school and narrowing my academic focus.
Sherwin is one of my best and brightest students. He has consistently demonstrated accountability, adaptability, and grace in challenging times. He works well independently and in teams. He has strong writing and research skills. He would be an asset to any organization seeking support in upcoming communication and outreach efforts. He is proficient in the Microsoft Office suite of programs, Canva, Adobe, Google Analytics, Weebly, Constant Contact, and many other web-based tools. He is eager to learn, has great attention to detail, and a willingness to take on new challenges.
I advocate for this young man as I do for many of my talented students who now find themselves out of work. I call upon the Cougs-Hire-Cougs community and hope that some will share and promote their needs to fill communication positions – even remotely during this time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Our #CougNation is tenacious and they will prevail. Let’s help them stay strong!
Intrigued by Sherwin’s story and profile? Want to learn more about him? Check out his LinkedIn profile at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sherwin-francies/.
Have a lost summer internship story of your own? Please share. You never know what is possible.
This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.