My internship search in the time of COVID-19

Editor’s note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa State University has moved all spring 2020 courses to virtual instruction for the remainder of the semester. Students in Assistant Professor Laura Witzling and Assistant Teaching Professor Beth Haag’s Public Relations Writing (P R 321) courses wrote blog posts about how COVID-19 has affected their lives for the Greenlee School student experience blog. This post has been published with permission. 

By Emily DeDoncker, sophomore in apparel, merchandising, and design (minoring in public relations)

Searching for a summer internship this spring has taught me unexpected life lessons. With the emergence, spread and rise in intensity of COVID-19, many college students, including me, have felt the effects of the virus in the job market. While I am not a graduating senior looking for entry-level jobs, I am searching for a summer internship.

At the beginning of the spring semester, I was eager to begin my internship search and was determined to land a summer internship. In the first week of class, I set up an appointment with my department’s internship adviser. I went into the meeting prepared with a list of companies for which I wanted to intern, and my adviser shared contact information for many of them.

After this meeting, I devised a plan. I would contact three new companies a week to inquire about their internship programs. Throughout the following weeks, I stuck to my plan. I continued to apply for internship programs. After a few weeks of this, I started to hear back from a few companies.

After a few initial phone calls, I moved forward in the interview process with two companies, and I started to get excited. Both were companies I was interested in at the start of this entire process.

The week before spring break, there was a lot of uncertainty and anxiety regarding what the university would do regarding COVID-19. Even though it was a stressful week, I had received emails from the two companies saying they each wanted to set up another call. By the end of the week, Iowa State had announced the school would be moving to online instruction the two weeks following spring break.

During spring break, I continuously got notifications regarding the development of COVID-19 in the United States. Halfway through the break, I got the official university notification that Iowa State would move to online instruction for the rest of the spring semester. At this moment, I knew how serious this pandemic was, but I had no clue it would affect my internship search.

The week after spring break I was supposed to have both of my calls. I had the first one on Monday. I got off the call, and I felt really good about how it went. The next call was scheduled for Wednesday, but the day before I got an email saying the internship program was being canceled for the summer due to COVID-19. I was disappointed by the news but still hopeful the other internship opportunity would pull through.

Thursday morning I woke up to an email saying the other company had suspended its internship program for the summer as well. I was crushed. I felt as though my opportunities were being taken from me. I felt like I had done everything right and had worked so hard to get to where I am at and nothing was working in my favor.

My mom came into my room to check in on me, and I broke down. I told her the news about the internship being canceled and she immediately embraced me. While sobbing I told her that I felt selfish for being upset while this whole pandemic was going on. I remember thinking “there are so many bigger more important problems than me not having an internship this summer.” My mom comforted me and told me it was okay to be upset and that I should not diminish how I feel.

I took a few days for myself to process my feelings. I never thought COVID-19 would affect me in this way. I never thought I would be home for the summer and not have an internship opportunity. I think about all of the seniors searching for entry-level jobs and feel for them. I also feel for the juniors trying to find the internship that is required of them to graduate. I knew COVID-19 would have a big impact on my life, but I never thought it would take away something I had worked so hard for.

Though it felt like I lost a lot, after I stepped back and looked at the situation with fresh eyes, I realized I was also gaining a lot, too — another summer with my hometown friends, more time with my family, (hopefully) more opportunities to travel and more time for myself.

This process has taught me a lot about myself. Reflecting on the situation has helped me see not only the complexity and uncertainty of the state of the world, but it has also shown me there are positives to every situation, even if you can’t see them at first.

Emily is a second-year student at Iowa State University majoring in apparel, merchandising, and design and minoring in public relations. She hopes to one day work at the corporate headquarters of an outdoor apparel and lifestyle company.