Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Universities, industry find alternative approaches for summer internships

By David Schwartz
Published: June 16th, 2020

A detailed article on the status of industry internship programs for university students appears in the June issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription details, click here.

As it has done with university-industry research, the coronavirus has had a tremendous impact on collaborative internships and co-op programs. Unlike research, however, which in many cases had to be shut down, these collaborations have for the most part found a way to continue — albeit using distinctly different models.

A recent survey by UIDP showed that 83.3% of the 60 respondents planned to continue their internships and co-ops this summer, and that nearly three-quarters of them would use a mix of virtual and in person programs.

And Stephanie Kit, director of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Center for Career Development, tells UIEA that The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), which has been routinely surveying employers, reports that 75% of employers have made changes to their internship, with 40% introducing virtual internships (

Internship and co-op programs with business and industry will definitely continue this summer, says Helen Oloroso, assistant dean and director of Engineering Career Development at Northwestern University. “Sometime in March the university issued a decree that all internships be stopped for the spring and summer,” she reports. “I wrote back politely and said these are positions the students got on their own; I did not place them into these slots, and I have no right to say to a student, ‘Sorry, you can’t,’” she adds. “That’s the approach we’re taking.”

“Yes, there will be [internships], although with modifications,” adds Mario Vela, executive director of the University Career Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Internship and co-op programs will also continue at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, says Marisa Moazen, PhD, assistant vice chancellor for research engagement and director, Office of Undergraduate Research there. “We have a lot of offices working on internships; mine are research related,” she explains. “The student population is interested in working with [potential employers], and they sometimes throw caution to the wind, so they may be more eager to go on in-person internships than others.”

Auburn University will also see internship and co-op activities continue this summer, says Charlie Wilder, PhD, associate director of cooperative education, who runs the co-op programs. Whether the programs are virtual or not depends on the company — what kind they are, and what work they do, he says.

“COVID-19 has obviously presented challenges and safety concerns for everyone,” adds Jennifer Stubbs, MEd, assistant director of recruiting and employer engagement and instructor at The Pennsylvania State University. “In response to these concerns, Penn State is encouraging all students to pursue virtual internships or co-ops.”

Not all the respondents were as sanguine as the majority. “We have seen many employers who work with us had to either rescind those offers or who have modified to make them virtual,” says Paul Timmins, executive director of the University Career Center, University of Oregon. “As a campus, the virtual intern experience is what most of our kids do — if they can find any.”

And David Durham, director of the Career Center at West Virginia University, says that internships have been impacted “more than anything else because of rescinded offers.” A lot depends on the nature of the company, he adds. “If they’re ‘critical’ and they’re operating, they’re bringing students on,” says Durham. “But if companies are laying off or furloughing rank and file workers it can be pretty awkward to bring in student workers.” He surmises the figure of cancelled internships “is probably in the 20% range.”

Since co-ops are more of a long-term investment, he continues, he has not seen as many employers rescind their offers. “Some have had a delay in starts, so instead of right after school is over some delayed until June 1st or June 15th,” he says.

While these universities are in partnership with industry, it seems that for the most part industry is calling the shots concerning whether their programs will continue in the summer. “Employers take the lead,” says Timmins.

“We let the industry partner make that decision,” adds Wilder. “We do not feel we would be right stepping in and saying who could and who could not work.” However, he adds, his office has communicated with students to make sure they’ve talked to the companies if they had health concerns. “If there are any health issues, we try as best we can to empower [students] to speak up — we encourage them to have conversations with the employers,” he adds. “We’ve functioned as mediators.”

Whether the programs are virtual or in person, universities and their partners have had to make adjustments to the new reality. “The students and employers have made this pivot in parallel to each other,” says Oloroso.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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