COVID-19 cancellations and changes: Affects on experiential learning opportunities

Students face challenges and encounter new experiences amid pandemic when searching for experimental learning opportunities, photo of of briefcase courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Nikki Huebner
Contributing Writer

The COVID-19 status was underestimated in early March.

Months of speculation of early departure nearly became reality for students at the University of Dayton and classes remained virtual through Sept. 24.

Like many aspects of college life, experiential learning opportunities were influenced and canceled due to the pandemic.

Post-graduation success often relies on summer co-ops and internships, which have been largely affected by COVID-19.

While internships and co-ops are valuable to students and are sometimes required for graduation, potential employers also find value in these experiences.

According to From Day One, a website rooted in improving company relations, interns can give companies a fresh, desirable perspective when work gets monotonous.

 Pat Enright, the department of communication internship coordinator, believes internships provide students with professional skills, networking opportunities and the ability to improve one’s resumé. Enright’s responsibilities are to place and connect students with potential employers.

This year, the focus of his role shifted to mentoring students due to summer and fall cancellations. 

To Enright, the pandemic altered the format of internships. Hands-on, in-office experiences transitioned to virtual opportunities.

Financial challenges and unfamiliarity with the remote format limited the amount of interns companies could hire. Enright claimed the broadcast or TV news industry is taking on little to no interns, but he is hopeful it will be able to show college students the ropes as soon as possible. 

The pandemic has caused a plethora of challenges, but Enright said, “One thing that it has done in some places is open up more opportunities for remote internships” because companies who have never done internships before are able to work with students far and wide. 

Early on, senior public relations student Lexie Barella felt the weight of the pandemic on her experiential learning opportunity.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Barella secured an internship with H&R Block from a UD alumnus. She planned to live in Kansas City this summer and was devastated to learn her internship was canceled.

In May she found another opportunity to work at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles as a corporate partners intern. This position was nothing like her former position at the Glen Ellyn Park District in Chicago, but she was excited and appreciative to find work. 

Due to COVID-19, Barella’s position was virtual. The time difference between LA and Barella’s Chicago or Dayton homebase proved difficult at times. However, she stated the museum did a good job of working with her remotely. 

The industry and type of work she was doing differed, and Barella stated the park district and museum goals were, “How do we get residents to attend events vs. working with COVID-19 and how we could make the museum accessible during the lock down period.”

Most aspects of sophomore mechanical engineering student Sydney Baker’s co-op process have been impacted by the pandemic. Baker’s co-op search began pre-pandemic with the spring career fair as the school of engineering urged students to take action as soon as possible. Baker continued her search with this fall’s drastically different career fair. 

The fall career fair was run through internal links on Handshake, and students could schedule group or one-on-one sessions with various employers.

Technical problems and an employer not showing up for Baker’s session put a damper on her experience. It was more difficult to form a connection with employers without going up and introducing yourself or shaking hands with recruiters. 

Following this year’s career fair, Baker had virtual interviews with General Electric and Cargill, a global food company. These interviews were run through external links using programs such as Google Hangouts. She landed a position with GE’s Louisville office and starts her co-op in January. 

In terms of opportunities, format and status, the pandemic’s impact is evident.

While cancellations are disappointing, the pandemic allowed for different experiential learning experiences due to the remote format. Advice the interviewees provided for Dayton students in this position was to be willing to broaden their horizons, have faith in their qualifications and remain optimistic in unprecedented times.