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Millsaps Students Still Find Valuable Experiences with Internships Despite Pandemic

While many aspects of typical student life were put on hold this summer, many students were still able to experience various internships. 

Sakshi Singh, seeking a “challenging and meaningful” experience to follow her sophomore year, came across internships provided by the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP), which provides internships that aid low-income communities. After going through the process of being accepted, Singh was accepted in early Feb

ruary. She was confirmed in early March to intern in Boston, Massachusetts at the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation as a Business Analyst and Economic Development intern. 

Unfortunately, the spread of COVID altered her plans. 

“When the pandemic hit, I was given an option to either work virtually or defer my position to next summer. But considering the nature of the internship and the population that I was going to be serving, I had no doubt before accepting my position for summer 2020,” Singh stated.        

With her internship focused primarily on financially aiding small businesses, the timing of her internship likely provided crucial insight to how so many small and struggling communities were impacted.                                                                           

“Due to the lockdown, there was a significant shift in the local consumption patterns which negatively affected revenue generating potential of small business owners specifically. I spent a lot of time researching and connecting small businesses owners specifically. I spent a lot of time researching and connecting small business owners with local and state resources available,” she elaborated. 

Singh also helped with data analysis: “I realized analyzing data is merely more than playing around with numbers and graphs. In the end, it’s about being able to tell a meaningful story through the data.” 

Gigi Halpern also found work aiding others. Studying for a career in journalism, Halpern was recruited to aid the recently-founded New Orleans Journalist Project, which seeks to “train a new generation of investigative journalists” and “educate local students about the history of criminal justice in our region, how media covers it, and how they can tell the stories that matter to their own communities,” according to their website. 

Even though she was unable to meet anyone in-person for her article, Halpern was still able to conduct interviews through digital media.        

“I did get the opportunity to interview Walter Ogrod, a former death-row inmate who has Aspergers and was falsely accused of murdering a four-year-old named Barbara Jean, and was sent to prison for almost thirty years,” Halpern informed. “So I had the chance of interviewing him and am currently writing an article on how people on the autism spectrum are treated in prison.” 

Similar to others who had internships this summer, Halpern acknowledges that more opportunities for in-person interactions would have been present during typical circumstances, but still considers her experiences to be invaluable and successful.                                                     

While Halpern and Singh were limited to virtual experiences, others still found in-person opportunities available, albeit altered due to current circumstances. 

An upcoming senior hoping to attend veterinary school, Jack Welsh found himself working at an emergency vet clinic in Biloxi after most general care clinics had to close. 

“I learned how to set up and get X-rays, I was able to give injections subcutaneously, intramuscularly, and through an IV catheter. I learned to set up IV drips for dogs and cats, how to find hteir vitals, a little on how to read scientific results on blood, and I was able to sit in on a few surgeries and witness how those were handled,” Jack said. “During a usual summer it would have been less busy because more clinics would have been open. As a result, it has been extremely busy and I have seen so much more than I would have seen in a normal summer.” 

His internship not only provided practical experience about general care in a high-stress environment, but also helped Welsh obtain a place to live in the US, as he was unable to return home to Canada when their borders closed. 

Spencer Wingfield and Trevor Galicki, both also approaching their final year at Millsaps, found internships located at Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi. Many NASA and aerospace-related internships were either converted to online-only experiences or canceled entirely, yet Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Syncom Space Services eventually accepted on-site internships at their Stennis locations. 

Wingfield, who plans on pursuing a career in the aerospace industry, had already applied for numerous internships, seeking the hands-on experiences that prove to be valuable in a competitive field. 

“I had already sent my applications along before the pandemic really hit so I spent lockdown waiting to hear back,” he stated. “I got to help out with whatever work they needed in their Heat Pipes Program as well as NASA’s Orion Program, which aims to produce a spacecraft that will return humans to deep space. Between those two systems there’s a lot to learn and a lot of parts to keep up with.” 

While Wingfield’s actual responsibilities proved to be quite similar to what they would be during a typical summer, masks were required in public spaces, and six-foot social distancing was put into place. 

“I was looking forward to seeing the rocket engine test stands and other facilities the public doesn’t get to see,” Wingfield said, though the tours of these NASA sites were closed to interns to provide better social-distancing. 

Galicki, while interning with a different company, still interned at the same Stennis site Wingfield found work at. Seeking a degree in Environmental Science to focus on sustainability and engineering, Galicki’s internship provided design experience related to mechanical and industrial engineering. 

While considering the internship a valuable experience and success, the impact of the pandemic still lingered. 

“Much of the workforce at Stennis Space Center remains off-site,” Galicki remarked. “With so few people on the base this summer, I cannot help but wonder if I would have been presented with more varied opportunities with a greater proportion of the workers on-site. While I recognize I am fortunate to have had this job over the summer, I feel there may have also been a higher workload for interns with a busier work environment in general.” 

Despite the opportunity for more experiences, Wingfield and Galicki both commented on the success of social distancing measures at Stennis Space Center, and are holding out hope that a return to campus in the fall will prove successful given similar guidelines are put in place and followed by students. 

“Personally speaking, I feel comfortable with a return to in-person classes this fall. The folks at Lockheed took the expectations of masks and social distancing very seriously and it helped give me a good idea with what to expect from this new normal. Also, after being home for so long, it meant a lot to drive to work every day and interact with people who are not members of my own family – no offense to them,” Wingfield said. 

Welsh echoed a similar sentiment, stating “Even if our in-person experience is vastly different from the usual experience it will be better than experiencing my last year of undergraduate through a computer screen.” 

Singh provided further thoughts on how to continue into the fall semester: “Moving forward, I think it’s very important that we analyze how our actions affect not only us but those around us too. In my opinion, we all owe each other a responsibility now and after the pandemic passes to stop and think about the needs of others. No one will return to the campus in the same mental and physical space that they were in when they left, so it’s only fair that we look out for each other.” 

With new experiences and perspectives for all students returning to campus, hope remains that the upcoming semester may still be productive and meaningful despite the pandemic.