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Working Through It: Student Internships During Covid-19

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Media, Film & Journalism Studies

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By Audrey Yin, senior strategic communication and international studies double-major

College life, especially spring quarter at DU, is difficult even in a normal year. This spring, students also had to learn to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic while juggling school, home and work responsibilities.

Media, Film & Journalism Studies students who had scheduled their internships for spring quarter faced an additional hurdle. Some internships were canceled as the quarantine began, leaving students scurrying to find last-minute replacements. Most became virtual; in spring quarter, MFJS students worked in organizations such as Slow Food Denver, House of Pod, Cohn Marketing, 303 Marketing, Iglesia Amistad, Allied Global Marketing, The Writer's Workout, Colorado's Builder's Magazine, Armistice Media and more. 

With life moving to mostly virtual spaces, students faced new challenges as they adapted to online work environments. Zoom meetings, conference calls, email chains and countless hours sitting in front of a screen became the reality for many working students.

Barbara Urzua found inspiration writing a story about murals in support of front line workers, by artist Austin Zucchini-Fowler (who is also a swimming coach at DU) for her internship at 303 Magazine

Junior Barbara Urzua, an editorial intern at 303 Magazine, described the constant screen time as one of the biggest downfalls of working and being a student in the time of COVID-19. "I'm basically glued to my laptop now which is definitely a negative," Urzua said. Speaking on the transition from in-person to online work, Urzua said that it was difficult to find motivation. "The amount of work I have every week is the same, but it's a lot harder to find the motivation to get the work done," Urzua said.

While students lost the office socialization that is often part of an internship, they adapted by focusing on the work. Urzua noted that she tried to avoid talking about COVID-19 in her writing at first. As time went on, she saw that individuals enjoyed hearing about positive stories emerging within the pandemic. "People want to see hopeful and positive stories. Even small actions have big impacts," Urzua said.

Rayna Rosenthal, an intern at Cohn Marketing, shared similar sentiments. "It's hard balancing the lifestyle of a student and a young professional because we do have those extra responsibilities," she said. Yet, while there are negatives to working online, it's not all bad. Rosenthal noted that "everyone [at work] is super understanding because a lot of us are going through the same thing."

Strategic Communication major, Rayna Rosenthal, from her internship with Cohn Marketing pre-COVID-19

Despite the new level of isolation, students noticed a sense of togetherness in the struggle. Rosenthal said that "companies are being hypersensitive and are trying to spread a message of togetherness rather than pushing sales during this time."

Students also found new levels of resilience and adaptability in themselves and others as they responded to the changing circumstances. On the MFJS Interns Canvas discussion board they shared quarantine frustrations while also giving each other encouragement and advice.

Professor Erika Polson, who oversees internships for the MFJS department, expressed her sympathy and respect for students trying to gain professional experience in these circumstances. "Students feel like everything is upside down," she said. "It is so stressful to be trying to make sense of the current moment while also trying to build their future, and this is especially so for the seniors. But this is going to be this generation's growing-up story — their own story of how, just as they were about to embark on a new phase of their life, everything changed. I can see that amidst the frustrations and fear, they are learning important things about themselves and their loved ones, they're developing new skills and hobbies, and they're becoming awakened to new possibilities."