We’ve all learned lessons in acceptance and adaptability since the coronavirus pandemic came along and changed pretty much all the plans we’d made for the summer. And students hoping to pursue internship opportunities and other experiential learning opportunities this summer are no different.
“COVID-19 has significantly altered students’ summer internship plans,” says Kristin Wichmann, experiential learning coordinator in the College’s Career Center. “Whereas some employers were able to move their opportunities online, a number of students have lost these experiences that they had worked so hard to earn.”
While some employers have continued to offer on-site internships, the Career Center has worked hard to expand virtual internship and other experiential learning opportunities for students this summer. For example, the center is partnering with Parker Dewey, an employment agency that specializes in work experiences for college students, to offer virtual, paid micro-internships that last 5–40 hours.
“The Career Center is committed to protecting the health and safety of our students while helping them find meaningful experiential learning opportunities during the pandemic,” says Wichmann, noting that a list of virtual internship resources is available on the Career Center website. “We are coaching students on how to approach employers about potential opportunities with sensitivity and creativity, as well as offering workshops for finding opportunities and networking effectively during the pandemic.”
And, for the 12 students participating in the Career Center Internship Award this year, the award funding has been extended through the end of the year.
“The group worked very hard to secure summer internships, so we hope that they all will get the chance to pursue their opportunities,” says Wichmann, adding that eight of the 12 students currently have confirmed opportunities.
One of those students is Candace Pfister, an economics major in the Honors College, who didn’t skip a beat when her summer internship with the American Bankers Association in Washington, D.C., was cancelled due to the pandemic. She immediately reached out to her high school alma mater, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (CHCA), and secured a virtual internship there instead.
“My academic interests are extremely varied, as is evident from these two distinct internships,” she says. “However, the common thread is my love of learning, and both opportunities allowed me to learn more about an area of great interest to me.”
The College Today caught up with Pfister to find out more about her internship at CHCA and what she has learned this summer about being flexible and taking unexpected opportunities to give back.
When your original internship at the American Bankers Association was cancelled, how did you manage to get another summer internship so quickly at the last minute?
It’s all about maintaining relationships! I attended Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy and was part of the Business Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Program when I was in high school. Since graduating, I’ve stayed in contact with the program director and knew the program was growing significantly. After my original internship was cancelled, I wanted to use this summer to grow professionally, but also take advantage of the time to work on something I am passionate about. Since the program was so integral to my high school experience and preparing me for college, I wanted to use the skills I’ve learned at College of Charleston to give back. I reached out to the director to gain an understanding of how I could help, and through that conversation, landed the internship.
During my time at CHCA, I was the head manager of The Leaning Eagle Coffee Bar, so now that I’ve expanded my understanding of entrepreneurship in college, I was excited about the chance to come back and make the program even better.
So often as a student, I view internships through the lens of “What can I get out of this? How can this build my resume?”, but my approach with this was “How can I use my skills to help and give back?”, and that made all the difference in securing this opportunity.
What has that experience taught you in terms of being flexible?
I’m the type of person who likes to plan things out, so having to be flexible was a huge growing experience for me. However, I learned how important it is to not get stuck in disappointment or frustration when difficulties arise, but instead to turn that into determination to make the most of the situation. Nothing will ever go exactly according to plan, so it is so important to learn how to adapt!
What are your responsibilities in the CHCA’s entrepreneurship and sustainability program?
CHCA’s entrepreneurship and sustainability program is all about developing a problem-solving mentality and giving students hands-on experience in running a small business. There are three different business: The Leaning Eagle Coffee Bar, which offers a full espresso menu during the school day; the horticulture management group, which manages an e-commerce platform to sell produce from the on-campus green house; and a teaching kitchen, which instills sustainable, farm-to-table practices. In addition to working at one of these businesses during a class period, students also take an entrepreneurship class where they read industry-relevant materials and hear from local professionals.
My two main projects for the summer are researching and creating curriculum components for a two-year entrepreneurial studies certificate and authoring an operations manual for training student managers at The Leaning Eagle Coffee Bar. I do all of this work remotely and have a weekly check-in with the program director to hold me accountable and answer any questions that come up.
How have your studies and your experiences at CofC prepared you for the work you’re doing there?
My involvement with the [Honors College] Entrepreneurship Living-Learning Community, as well as creating a startup in the ImpactX program, gave me the tools I needed to be successful in this internship. By teaching me about the principles of entrepreneurship and giving me the opportunity to learn by doing, they prepared me, and I’m now able to take those experiences and assist in teaching high school students about the topic.
Why did you decide to major in economics?
I decided to major in economics to develop my analytical skills and improve my understanding of how the global economy works. My minor is political science, so I enjoy combining my knowledge of global events with an understanding of how the economy works.
What are your career goals, and how do you think your internship experience will contribute to those?
Right now, if I could create a dream job description, it would be to foster economic growth by empowering female entrepreneurs. In order to do this, I will need a strong understanding of what it takes for business ventures to be successful, which is something I’m spending a lot of time researching for this entrepreneurship curriculum.