Community Engagement

Pandemic Pivot

Reinventing internships in a pandemic

Male sitting in chair working on laptop.

With about half of summer internships reportedly cancelled nationwide, Kevin Muir, operations management senior, prepared for and landed a remote internship at Amrock, a subsidiary of Rock Family of Companies. (Photo credit: Rob Hall)

Career Services

icon of a calendarMarch 15, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Rene Wisely

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As organizations across Michigan quickly pivoted to virtual work environments to keep employees safe during a global pandemic, internship opportunities for college students slowed dramatically. At the start of the 2020 summer internship season, about 22 percent of employers reported they were cancelling internships, while another 19 percent were undecided, according to a poll by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). However, 42 percent planned to move their internship programs into a virtual format, creating a competitive internship market.

Facing a reduction in opportunities tested the strength of the relationships the OU School of Business has with employers as well as the resiliency and persistence of OU business students. It was a test they passed with flying colors.

That OU business students continued to secure virtual internships during the spring and summer of 2020 is a testament to both the solid connections the OU Business Career Services team has with employers and the previous experiences employers have with the productivity and professionalism of OU business interns.

“Internships provide students with valuable hands-on experience that enhances their business education, resume, and professional network,” says Ian Caullay, director, Career Services, OU business school. “We increased overall communication with students and our valued employer partners as much as possible at the onset of the pandemic. Although some employers had to cancel internships, many condensed them and made them virtual. It was impressive how everyone adapted so quickly.”

The Rock Family of Companies and Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), are two that forged ahead with virtual internships early in the pandemic.

“Interns are so important to our organization,” says DJ Bridges, university relations manager for Rock Central. “They bring a fresh set of eyes, ears and perspective for our business – every single one of them.” The Rock Family of Companies hired 600 students for summer internships, a number consistent with previous summers.

“Obviously, they weren't able to have the opportunity to physically stand in our office space, but we wanted to create opportunities that were very similar, so we put on professional development workshops virtually,” Bridges says. They also held virtual networking sessions with leaders from within the company, allowing interns to create the important relationships that internships foster.

Every year, Stellantis employs hundreds of students from more than 70 colleges and 30 different states in its internship program. The organization’s website describes the future leaders it employs as pioneering, inspirational and collaborative. In the summer 2020, 280 students took part in internships through Stellantis’ completely virtual program.

“I appreciate the flexibility and willingness of the summer interns who participated in our first-ever virtual program,” says Emily Paula, HRM ’12, MBA ’15, university relations specialist, Stellantis. “The interns acted as true change agents and added value.”

Landing the coveted internship
With about half of internships reportedly cancelled nationwide, Kevin Muir, operations management senior, considered himself lucky to secure an internship the summer of 2020. That summer, Muir landed an internship at Amrock, a subsidiary of Rock Family of Companies, which offers title insurance and closing services, preparing daily reports for the title operations group.

While luck may have played a role, Muir’s previous internship experience combined with the confidence he built through ACHIEVE, the business school’s required career and professional development program, gave him a competitive edge.

“ACHIEVE definitely helped me here,” Muir says. “It gave me more confidence. I had already done an elevator pitch in front of professionals, and that helped me do well in the interviews.”

His connection with the Rock Family of Companies and Amrock began before the pandemic hit Michigan. Muir applied to Amrock in February and completed two phone interviews in early March, one with a recruiter and the other with his future boss. He was scheduled for a final, in-person interview when Covid-19 forced organizations to shift employees to remote work locations. Although the in-person interview was cancelled, Muir still landed the internship.

Muir’s experience at Amrock combined with what he learned at his purchasing department internship at another organization the previous summer influenced his decision on both career direction and company culture.

“I really liked what I did at Amrock,” he says. Even though it was all virtual, he found a congenial environment, a welcoming culture and work that challenges him. Equally impressed with Muir’s performance, Amrock offered Muir a full-time position to start after he graduates.

Priceless professional experience
A virtual internship at Stellantis (then FCA) gave Christie Flood the chance to put her finance education and networking skills to the work. Flood says she felt like a sponge as she absorbed the inner workings of corporate finance, a direction she plans to pursue after she graduates in December.

“I’m grateful to have worked with such incredible people,” Flood says. “This internship furthered my professional growth and development.”

As she put her hard skills to use on meaningful projects in the real-world virtually, Flood also flexed her networking muscles.

“I had to work harder making connections virtually rather than face to face. I built some good relationships,” says Flood. Her connections now include and extend beyond her mentor, manager, HR contact and members of the company’s finance team. Flood’s connections are so strong she has already secured another internship for summer 2021.

Recent finance graduate Luis Carlos Hernandez-Colin, who took part in Stellantis’ virtual internship program as a finance accounting intern, appreciates the opportunity the company provided that allowed him to gain experience on transfer pricing, compliance and planning. He says, “I couldn’t be more thankful to FCA (now Stellantis) for keeping the summer internship program going and leaving us with such valuable experience.”

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