In the world of higher education, spring is an exciting time to dream about summer plans. For many students, summer is an opportunity to put classroom knowledge to the test in the real world. This year, students and professors everywhere have shifted their plans as the world navigates COVID-19.
Because of the pandemic, students in UTC's communications department struggled to find summer internships. To address the problem, UTC partnered with local nonprofits like The Bethlehem Center, WTCI-TV (PBS), ArtsBuild, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and more to develop virtual internships.
"I am forever grateful for the organizations stepping up to provide students with valuable learning experiences," says Nicole Brown, Co-Internship Director and Academic Advisor in UTC's communications department.
The Bethlehem Center anticipates hiring several interns for its communications, education and development departments. While the Center has hired interns in the past, this will be the first year they take on virtual interns.
"I think some (full-time) employees feel like an intern is going to be another job for them, but I have come to find that they make my job so much easier," says Shari Watson, Marketing Manager at The Bethlehem Center.
NOOGAtoday, a local news publication, also plans to add another virtual intern this summer. Brianna Williams, a UTC student studying communications and English, has already been working remotely with them since businesses closed this spring to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
We sat down with The Bethlehem Center and NOOGAtoday for advice on navigating virtual internships for summer 2020 and beyond.
Ask the Right Questions
If you've received applications and don't know where to begin, start by scheduling virtual interviews with promising prospects.
"I encourage people to interview applicants on online video platforms like Google Hangout," says Trista Pruitt, NOOGAtoday Editor. "I think it's important to have a face-to-face conversation with someone before you hire them."
The Bethlehem Center's Watson has another piece of advice to help you navigate the interview process – ask the right questions.
In a virtual setting, it's important for you and your applicants to clearly communicate expectations.
"I always ask students what they hope to get out of their internship," Watson says. "Then, I come up with a game plan to incorporate the things they want to learn."
You'll also want to make sure they are a good fit for your company's culture.
To find out, ask questions like "Who was your favorite boss and why?" or "Do you prefer to work individually or as a team?" for valuable insight into your applicants' work habits.
Consider experimenting with software like Slack, an advanced communication platform that allows people to share and store things in one place.
"Slack is a good way for interns to show everyone what they are doing, so people know how they fit in and how they can help when needed," Watson says.
Along with Slack, live video chat applications like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangout are also useful for networking. Schedule a training session with your intern and IT specialist to provide interns with information about these platforms.
If your intern doesn't have the basic technology your internship requires, UTC can help students by providing digital media equipment, software, electronic devices and more.
"Some organizations were concerned about not having the equipment they need to take on a virtual intern. Because they are still in class, interns have access to tools and resources at the University," Brown says.
"We have consistent COVID-19 relief efforts, but how that looks changes every week based upon the community's needs," Watson says.
As an employer, plan weekly meetings with your intern to go over their tasks and deadlines.
Starting any job can be stressful, so be approachable and available to answer interns' questions. One of the best ways you can quickly communicate is through instant messaging services like Google Chat, Microsoft Teams or via texting.
"Don't be afraid to reach out to your boss because you are at home. It's still important to regularly communicate with your overhead even if you are working alone," Williams says.
Keep interns in the loop by inviting them to join staff meetings and incorporating them into your work culture. When interns have a better sense of your company's overall mission, they can be a more effective resource for your team.
Find Your System
When working with virtual interns, make sure to find a system that works for you.
"If you pick the right intern, keep yourself organized and know how to delegate tasks, interns can be crucial during times like these," Watson says.
One way to stay organized: create a check sheet with a list of goals and objectives you want your intern to meet. NOOGAtoday uses this system to continually monitor helping interns build their resumes.
Watson also suggests finding a way to effectively track how interns spend their time. With tools like Excel and Google calendar, interns can record their daily tasks and work hours.
"If you're new at having an intern, find someone in your field who's worked with them before and ask for tips," Pruitt says. "We want to make sure we're giving interns the right skills to go into their next role."