Learn more about how The Washington Center's partners are adjusting to hosting interns virtually.
If you’d told Amy Doman a year ago that unforeseen circumstances would make her organization’s internship program transition to all-virtual, she’d have been inclined to scrap the whole idea and try again when conditions were better.
“I wouldn’t have thought it possible to do an effective internship program virtually,” says Doman, vice president of administration at CommCore Consulting.
CommCore is one of 600 organizations that partners with The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC) as an intern host site. TWC provides immersive internships and academic seminars to students from more than 400 colleges and universities in the U.S. and more than 25 countries.
After CommCore was forced by COVID-19 to mandate telework in March, she and her team began to see how it might be possible to salvage its longstanding internship program.
Doman says that “working from home, along with some excellent tips from TWC,” helped her see how a virtual internship program might not only survive, but thrive.
I wouldn’t have thought it possible to do an effective internship program virtually.Amy Doman, vice president of administration at CommCore Consulting
“I think conducting the internships virtually ultimately had a few advantages,” she added. For example, going virtual “streamlined” communications and “kind of forced everyone” to adhere to meeting schedules with interns and other employees on their team or company-wide, she explains. “In the office sometimes it’s easier to get distracted and push meetings off,” Doman says. However, the virtual internship program made everyone more “dedicated” to sticking with online meeting schedules, she notes.
Doman lauds TWC for its proactive, roll-up-your-sleeves approach to facing the new, ever-changing realities imposed by COVID-19. “I followed many of their tips, including doing project-based internships with regular communications” baked into the onboarding plan, she says.
At CommCore, that meant creative use of Zoom, Slack, Google Docs, and other technologies to enable weekly one-on-one meetings with the intern, in addition to regular meetings with the entire organization and smaller ad hoc meetings as a project dictated, Doman says.
Teresa Mourad, director of education and diversity programs at the Ecological Society of America (ESA), a TWC internship host partner for both onsite and virtual interns, has also become a big fan of virtual internships. However, the situation puts more pressure on both intern and team to be proactive to make it work.
“I encourage interns to check in with me and other program staff, especially during a time like this,” Mourad says. She also emphasized the importance of using regular meetings via Teams, which is integrated with the MS Office apps, to keep interns connected, productive and feeling like what they are doing “is part of the mission.”
For the first week going virtual, it was really crucial to have daily meetings and check-ins throughout the day and assignments bite-sized.Teresa Mourad, director of education and diversity programs at the Ecological Society of America
ESA found itself fielding unexpected questions from interns, such as seeking input on how to dress appropriately for virtual meetings, Mourad recalls. “For the first week going virtual, it was really crucial to have daily meetings and check-ins throughout the day and assignments bite-sized,” she adds.
Another helpful tip that’s especially useful when internships go virtual is to “highlight and mark milestones” showing progress in accomplishing a given task, she says. Whether it’s during a one-on-one meeting, a broader team meeting, or something company-wide, milestone recognition is an effective way to keep everyone engaged – which is especially important when no one’s in the same room anymore.
A TWC partner for more than 20 years, Nick Kourtesis, founder and owner of Mid-Atlantic Sports Consultants (M-ASC), has hosted some 70 interns – and he thought he’d seen it all. Then the COVID-19 pandemic upended virtually all walks of life in ways unimaginable just a few months prior.
“It’s been an interesting time, to say the least,” Kourtesis remarks.
Luckily, he was able to work closely with TWC to smoothly transition his internship program to a successful virtual offering with four “very happy” interns this summer, he says. “I was on a call with them yesterday, and they are all very excited about how their internships are going,” Kourtesis adds.
“I was very impressed with the way TWC handled everything,” he says. “No one knew what we were up against, and TWC was very proactive working with me to help prepare a summer virtual internship program.”
Depending on how the nation handles COVID in the future, Kourtesis anticipates a hybrid fall internship program with some of the best of the virtual experience incorporated into his offering. “I’ve learned you can do internships effectively virtually, and some of that is thanks to TWC,” he says.
Bottomline: ESA’s Mourad, CommCore’s Doman and M-ASC's Kourtesis report they’re excited about future TWC internship programs –whether virtual or not.
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