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Students and faculty navigate shift to remote summer opportunities

Campus 3 (MARCOM)

COVID-19 continues to affect the summer plans of students and faculty alike at St. Olaf. While many in the community continue to figure out what break will look like, being on campus is likely off the table.

 Changes to campus programming

As of publishing, the College has already taken several steps regarding summer programming. All summer courses will be taught online. Human Resources staff are evaluating summer work availability. As well, on-campus camps, conferences, and events have been canceled, although it is uncertain whether certain camps may be offered virtually, according to an email from President David Anderson ’74 on April 9. 

Beyond St. Olaf, students everywhere are not alone as they face the harsh consequences of quarantine that will extend into summer. Steve Peper’s ’22 archeology internship in Turkey was canceled. Fricka Lindemann’s ’22 research trip to Budapest has been delayed until next year. Rachel Ellis’s ’22 internship in Japan and an outdoor camp counselling job in Colorado have been canceled, while the status of other opportunities are unclear.

However, some summer projects can still be completed remotely. While St. Olaf will not host students and faculty members on campus for the Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry Program (CURI), director of the program and professor of political science and Asian studies Katherine Tegtmeyer Pak is evaluating the viability of some projects for remote completion. 

For example, Miranda Lentz ’22 plans to work at home on a CURI project studying milkweed plants alongside assistant professor of biology and education Emily Mohl. 

“I can tell they want to give us the best experience we can have, given the circumstances,” Lentz said. Lentz said that Mohl has been very transparent with updates.

Still, the change creates a financial burden. 

“It was a long time of uncertainty and stress, and now I won’t get the experience or the pay I was expecting, which is a detriment to future job searching, resume building and earning enough over the summer to help pay for next year’s schooling,” Lentz said. 

The Coronavirus has created financial burdens for other students as well, such as Saher Zaaman ’23, whose original internship plans and retail job are likely to be canceled. 

“I’m so stressed. I was really counting on this internship and my job,” Zaaman said. “I need to find a way to quickly reroute and figure another way to financially support myself for the rest of the year without my parents’ help.” 

Piper Center response

The Piper Center for Vocation and Career is responding online. The Center offers virtual career coaching and office hours with peer advisors, tools and resources for students on their website and email templates for students to correspond with employers as they adapt to their internship situations. 

Senior associate director of the Piper Center Kirsten Cahoon ’98 said that most opportunities can be adjusted with creativity and flexibility.

“Piper Center staff are working on a consultative basis with both students and employers to explore ways to turn in-person internships into virtual or project-based assignments that can be done remotely,” Cahoon said. Health Scholars internships, for example, are going remote in partnership with a St. Olaf alumnus.

The Center is exercising their adaptability. Rerouted funds from the canceled Library of Congress internship will now fuel a project-based remote internship with St. Olaf’s Collections and Archives. A new partnership with micro-internship company Parker Dewey offers “paid, short-term project opportunities to St. Olaf students to help build skills and develop ‘real world’ work experience,” Cahoon said. The Center also emailed alumni and parents asking them to offer summer opportunities for students, which Cahoon said “will be on Handshake soon.” 

Most internship cancelations have been in healthcare, lab science and international opportunities, while entrepreneurial firms, nonprofits and most large corporations have tended to maintain their summer programs, according to Cahoon.

The Center acknowledged the challenges of summer and encouraged students to connect. 

“We pride ourselves on personalized, highly relational services, and we are doing the best that we can over email, Google Meet, our new website and our virtual workshop series via Zoom,” Cahoon said. “I encourage all students to reach out and connect with the coach in your industry area of interest for more info on opportunities, alumni connections and how to make the most of your summer.”

Students’ opinions

Opinions about the College’s handling of summer plans during COVID-19 vary. Zaaman and Julia Himmelberger ’22 praised the Piper Center’s policies.

“The Piper Center has been so helpful with this process, and I’ve already met multiple times virtually with my career coach, Thando Kunene, for help with resumés, cover letters and the internship search in general,” Himmelberger said. “She has provided me with resources I never would have known about, which has been super helpful.” 

Zaaman echoed Himmelberger, saying, “The Piper Center has been especially gracious in providing programs and resources for students to utilize off-campus.”

Other students are less content. 

“I do wish I had more support from the Piper Center, because the advice I’ve been getting is pretty much, ‘Tough times, be patient. Apply to what you see,’ which is, you know, great but not particularly useful,” Margot Groskreutz ’20 said.

As the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, uncertainty creeps into new plans students have put effort into securing. When Himmelberger’s position as a leadership counselor at a sleepaway camp became uncertain, she applied to many back-up internships, some of which have already been canceled. Ellis described the stress that comes with the unknown status of summer programs.

“Waiting on jobs for the summer is already stressful enough when you’ve applied and you’re waiting for like up to two weeks,” Ellis said. “But now, even if you are accepted to a job, you don’t know if that’s certain.”

For some students, pressure to stay ahead creates even more anxiety. 

“While I know that the virus has impacted so many opportunities, I still feel there is a pressure to secure a virtual or remote internship in order to get ahead,” Himmelberger said. “It’s hard to work through that and assure myself that there can’t be expectations in such an unprecedented time.”

Summer hits especially hard for seniors this year. Groskreutz planned to get a job, move in with her sister in the Twin Cities, go on vacation with her parents and visit her grandmother in New Jersey. Now, she lives with her sister but is unable to see the rest of her family.

Affect on faculty

Faculty plans have also been affected. Associate professor of philosophy Anthony Rudd and his wife, professor of philosophy Jeanine Grenberg usually spend each summer in England, but these plans have been thrown into total uncertainty. 

“We hope we will be able to be there for at least part of the summer, but we just don’t know,” Rudd said.

Professor of philosophy Charles Taliaferro is another faculty member who faces summer changes. A conference in Toronto just after graduation must now be attended virtually, a conference in Chicago in July has been postponed for a year and a trip to Oxford in August is currently uncertain.

“In all this, I have come to realize how much actual, physical presence has mattered in my life. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” Taliaferro said.

The extent of how COVID-19 has impacted summer plans at St. Olaf is immense. For many, the virus has forced both students and faculty to adjust their plans in unprecedented ways. Work and travel are common concerns. The College’s efforts to provide resources alleviate the stress of many, while for others, the future remains uncertain.

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