As with so many aspects of life upended by COVID-19, the global shutdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic left college students at a loss for what to do when study abroad plans and internships were abruptly canceled.
“I was kind of resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t be doing anything professional,” said Elizabeth Cone, a computer engineering major going into her third year at Stevens this fall.
But with help from Stevens, Cone managed to secure an internship, a virtual one that is, with a software startup on the other side of the world.
She is working remotely from her home near Chicago, helping write software for a startup – Keigan – based in Kyoto, Japan.
“This internship is really paving the way for me to get a better understanding of my major and what it’s like in the real world. The opportunity came along at just the right time and I’m really glad I made the decision to do this.”
After the company shipped Cone the hardware she needed to perform her work, including the Bluetooth motor and parts needed to test software, Cone was up and running, communicating with her bosses and team in Japan through instant messaging and Slack Technologies’ suite of digital tools for collaboration.
“They were very accommodating in making sure I had what I needed to work remotely,” Cone said appreciatively.
Cone’s experience isn’t unique. She is one of 32 Stevens students who found virtual international internships through Stevens’ Office of International Programs.
The global pandemic affected plans for students across the board, not just ones with plans to study or intern abroad, Susan Rachouh, director of that office, pointed out.
When it became clear that there would be widespread disruption to students’ summer plans, Rachouh and her staff, including Connie Au, the International Programs Coordinator, moved quickly to approve four different study abroad provider programs that they have worked with for years, including Academic Programs International (API), Center for International Studies (CIS) Abroad, International Studies Abroad (ISA) and The Education Abroad Network (TEAN).
Rachouh and Au then emailed students about internship opportunities, hosted several webinars and promoted the various scholarships and grants that were available.
“The student interest was higher than we expected, and we are particularly proud of the accessibility that this opportunity has afforded our students. Those who want an international experience but can’t leave home for various reasons now have global work experience to add to their resumes,” Rachouh explained.
For business and technology major Rachael Spelman '21, the opportunity came just in time. The Sparta, New Jersey native's plans to intern for a sustainability clothing company in California had fallen through.
“Unfortunately they couldn’t take interns anymore. Susi, who I knew from having studied abroad last fall semester in Strasbourg, France, knew of my situation and reached out with this opportunity,” Spelman recalled.
“I’m amazed that they were able to pull a program like this together so quickly. This was back in May, so the deadline to apply was really compressed. I had tons of questions about the ISA internship. And Susi and Connie were super helpful and supportive throughout the whole process.”
Spelman along with two other Stevens students were matched with an Australian agricultural technology company – FluroSat – looking to expand in the U.S. They are part of a team tasked to perform market research for how to expand the company’s footprint in America.
“We’ll be creating a market plan for them to use," Spelman revealed. "I really enjoy it because it’s exactly what I want to be doing when I graduate."
Shafaq Tanweer, also a business and technology major, but with a concentration in international business, just finished her first year at Stevens. Her virtual internship, she says, is giving her an early glimpse into how her Stevens education could apply in the real world.
The program provider Tanweer selected, CIS Abroad, matched her with Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ), an organization dedicated to supporting women who want to start small businesses. As a project intern, she worked with a team tasked to submit a proposal to the local commerce commission for installing copper wire systems in the rural parts of that country.
“This internship is really paving the way for me to get a better understanding of my major and what it’s like in the real world. The opportunity came along at just the right time and I’m really glad I made the decision to do this,” Tanweer shared.
One particular day Tanweer wishes she had been physically in New Zealand for was the day RWNZ hosted New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as part of an event to honor first responders amidst that country's coronavirus outbreak.
And while nothing can take the place of an in-person experience to truly get a sense of place, Tanweer, Cone and Spelman all agree that their international internships opened them up to a world of global opportunities that surprised them. The immersive experience in virtual work, they say, positions them well for how work will be conducted in the future as geography and physical distance become less and less of a barrier to many employment opportunities.
“It has been a great professional experience because I’m actually working in a structured environment with a boss to report to,” said Cone.
The pandemic, Spelman believes, will have lasting effects beyond the current crisis as companies reexamine how business gets done.
“It’s been really interesting proving that we can be at home and do a lot of the things that are normally done in the office. I think [these practices] will continue to be implemented into businesses and even in education in the future. So I’m definitely thankful that I had this opportunity.”
To learn about virtual international internships and other international learning experiences, visit the Office of International Programs.