COVID-19 postpones internships and study abroad programs

Due to COVID-19, many students at the University of Iowa received news of internships and study abroad programs being cancelled, causing concern for incoming seniors and those entering the workforce.

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Rachel Schilke, News Reporter


University of Iowa junior Megan Lumetta was looking forward to a sales internship in Fort Myers, Florida with Gartner Inc., excited to step outside of her comfort zone into a new field of business.

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, however, Lumetta said the research and advisory company has since canceled her summer 2020 internship. She’s one of several UI students who’ve been forced to rapidly shift gears, still reeling from canceled or delayed internships that often lead to a future job.

The biggest letdown was the loss of experience in an industry she wanted to explore, Lumetta said, where she would have completed both classroom instruction and shadowing opportunities.

“I did a sales internship with insurance previously,” she said, “… but working with Gartner Inc. would have been an intangible sales opportunity, and now I won’t have that industry knowledge. I’m not sure what I am going to do.”

UI junior Emily Wolf had a similar experience when her study-abroad, fashion internship in Milan, Italy was canceled due to travel restrictions related to the coronavirus. Wolf said she will now miss a prime opportunity to learn in one of the world’s top fashion capitals.

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“The international working experience would have been incredible,” she said. “I have completed a study-abroad program and an internship in the United States before, so this would have allowed me to combine my experiences. This was the next step. Now, it’s a waiting game.”

According to the New York Times, nationwide job postings fell about 29 percent from mid-February to mid-March. In Iowa last week, 58,453 people applied for unemployment, a spike from 2,229 two weeks ago.

Many UI colleges and offices have been working with students remotely to help students find alternative opportunities to their summer experiences.

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Dana Dominguez, the UI associate director for operations and communications at the Pomerantz Center, said the university will host a virtual career and internship fair on April 15 to allow students to continue building connections with future employers.

She added that the Pomerantz Center was working to help students as much as they can but the career-development center remained in the same “gray area” as the rest of the UI community.

“We don’t know what is going to happen,” Dominguez said. “I don’t think employers really do, either. They have to change things very quickly, and organizations are looking for ways to operate virtually. It takes time, and it’s all up in the air right now.”

She said that, if companies decide to move to virtual internships, they would have to communicate with interns to make sure they understand the technology and the company’s normal operations.

“Human-to-human connection is important — especially when learning a trade,” she said. “Virtual internships would require a lot of questions, but I hope that those opportunities will still take place.”

UI Honors College Director Art Spisak said that his staff was working with students to provide opportunities for credit. He said that the college created alternative assignments for those recalled from study abroad and research programs and is allowing honors students to choose the pass/fail option for course grades.

Some students, however, might not be able to receive credit due to the uncompleted semester hours, he said.

“Sometimes, though, there might be nothing that we can do,” he said. “We are doing all we can to not let that happen. [Students] have so much going on right now, we do not want to make life any more difficult.”

UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication Internship and Placement Coordinator Paul Jensen said that students can use this time to start networking virtually.

“Companies hire interns for two reasons: to get something done and develop talent,” Jensen said. “Network with companies you might have never reached out to before. Ask questions, find out if things are on hold or canceled. Demonstrate what you can do and how you are handling this situation. These opportunities are still worth chasing.”

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