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'We knew it was a challenge, but we couldn't let that be an excuse' | Summer internships go virtual

Data shows a 52 percent decrease in internships due to the pandemic, however some companies have worked to keep the opportunities available.

As the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools and universities across the country, the impact was also felt by students who had planned internships.

At the start of the pandemic, Glassdoor reported a 52 percent decrease in internship openings, and a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers revealed that more than one-fifth of participating employers (22 percent) said they were revoking their offers to interns for the summer.

However, some companies worked to move their internship programs to a virtual format so that students could still gain the experience.

"We knew it was a challenge, but we couldn't let that be an excuse," said Terry Cline, Knoxville Market President Bank of America. "We were able to go ahead and move forward with creating a virtual role session, which it was a pleasant surprise of how we were able to create a good program.

Bank of America chose to adapt to a virtual format for their Student Leaders internship program.

Cline said going virtual allowed them to expand the connectivity and expose the interns to different leaders all across the organization.

"It's opened it up, the time and the calendars for everyone to participate," said Cline. "With our executive leadership in DC and Charlotte, and around the country we have been able to put them in front of our student leaders and assess and ask questions. It gives them a better, broader view and experience level."

While a virtual internship still provides a valuable experience, some students wonder how it will stack up on their resume.

"How I personally look at it, assessing a talent that I wanted to bring on board is 'how did you work through that.' A challenge not an excuse. how did you work through that and around it, what were you able to accomplish," explained Cline. "You're showing connectivity, the ability to meet the end goal. Again, not an excuse but that you were able to work through a challenge. To me that speaks more than I was able to work with these few companies."

The interns in the Bank of America Student Leaders program are connected with a non-profit organization like Habitat or Restoration house and work with the group internally to learn how it functions and what it takes support-wise to operate.

Normally, the student leaders go on a trip to DC with 3700 other leaders from across the country. They were not able to host the trip this summer.

Cline hopes his interns leave the summer program with newly gained leadership experience.

"It was a little different because it hadn't been online before but I was glad we had the option. It's been great honestly," said Riona Grant, an incoming freshman at the University of Tennessee, who participated in the program.

Another student leader, Jina Jiang, is a rising senior at Oak Ridge and was happy to have the option as well.

"This virtual process was definitely very different but in no way bad. With virtual, we are able to connect connect with more student leaders and it was more convenient with transportation and to meet up and schedule time," said Jiang.

A typical virtual day for the Students Leaders might include meeting up with community leaders and non-profits, as well as doing calls with Bank of America and working with other Student Leaders across the country on projects and grant funding.

"There's webinars to learn about stuff like food insecurity, with other student leaders. We participated in a democracy session and met with other student leaders and talked about opinions with certain issues," explained Grant.

The girls' main project for the summer is a story banking project.

"Which means collecting stories for a non-for profit. How can the organization use it, how will the stories impact the organization. We wanted to have a database and way for the organization to look back and see the work they had done and what to do in the future..and an easier way for them to be organized."

The Student Leaders are collecting and documenting interviews and materials Restoration House can use for fundraising, social media, and advocacy.

For both girls, it was important to have the internship experience whether it was in-person or virtual.

"It helps you grow your skill set you already have. Then you go to college and get those internships and you can build on those skills and do your job better and keep growing," said Grant.

"Being able to do it earlier and learn those skills while I'm in high school is good because then I go to school and can learn more and I can get further into my job or another internship," said Jiang.

Grant and Jiang plan to continue to be involved in their community and have enjoyed learning how non-profits work and build their business school.

The Student Leaders program with Bank of America is highly-competitive. One goal is help establish well-rounded future leaders in the workplace and community.

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