Utica College students have numerous opportunities to gain real-world professional experience in their chosen field.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has led companies to completely cease their activities, meaning internships that are required for seniors to graduate have been suspended though some students have been able to continue their internships remotely.
Senior Stefanie Puma said she was devastated when her internship was canceled.
“I am bummed I can no longer continue my internship with Laurel (Simer) in the Sports Information office, especially because I need those internship hours to graduate,” Puma said. “I really enjoyed everything I did and I hope I can find a full-time opportunity like that in the near future.”
A minimum of 120 hours of internship hours is required for students enrolled in CMM 450. Communication and Media Professor Paul MacArthur has come up with an alternative solution for students who are no longer able to continue their fieldwork.
MacArthur is allowing students to complete informational interviews with communication professionals in the students’ preferred field in place of the loss of internship hours.
“Though it’s not my actual internship I was doing, the informational interviews MacArthur has us doing is still a good way for me and other students to get our name out there and explore the field and still allows me to graduate in May,” Puma said.
MacArthur said he is certainly worried for his students’ physical and mental health during these unprecedented times and believes that the nature of student internships are now very different and are lacking the day-to-day interaction in the work environment.
“While students are learning to work independently, they are also losing something else in the process and that is concerning,” MacArthur said.
Because of this, MacArthur said he wanted to create something that was of equal value to the student internships. The informational interviews students are now doing will help students network. MacArthur said it is a great time to network because a lot of people are working reduced hours and craving human interaction.
“Use this time to refine the skills you have and develop new skills,” MacArthur said. “If our economy is going to stay where it is now, it is going to be a tough job market. So start working on things now in preparation for when the economy goes back to normal.”
Aside from communication and media students, education students completing their required student teaching placement have had this experience suspended until further notice.
Senior Ashley Taveras, an education major, said she was extremely saddened by the news that Oneida County schools were closing until at least April 30.
“I was just starting to get familiar with the school, the students and many of the faculty,” Taveras said. “I feel as if my opportunity to student-teach was taken from me due to this virus. It is definitely upsetting to know that I am missing a great opportunity to learn from a direct experience.”
With the coronavirus and student teaching suspension, Taveras and other education students are now being asked to offer their assistance to their host teacher in place of creating lesson plans and physically teaching students.
Taveras said the sudden change from physical instruction to virtual instruction has been difficult for many teachers.
“I offered my assistance to my host teacher, and unfortunately there is no way for me to help in creating materials,” Taveras said. “A lot of the teachers’ current responsibilities are to keep in touch with students and parents, which is something I cannot do at the moment.”
Some schools are also struggling to provide resources for students to access the virtual curriculum. On top of that, Taveras said she believes it might be more work for her host teacher to include her in creating instructional packets since she is unable to physically assist.
Taveras was able to complete an eight-week student teaching placement before the coronavirus.
“I loved my first student teaching experience,” she said. “One of my favorite things was the bond and relationships I made with my students.”
Taveras said she taught in a first-grade classroom and enjoyed teaching them while also learning from the students. She said she also loved the opportunity to learn about student interests, backgrounds and experiences.
“I am going to miss having that last day reflection of my second student teaching placement,” Taveras said. “I wish I had the opportunity to teach in my second placement and bond and learn about those students.”
Despite the coronavirus pandemic affecting her opportunities to gain professional experience, Taveras will still be able to graduate in May.
Nursing student Ashley Bitz said she is not doing clinicals yet, although she might be next semester.
Bitz, a sophomore, said she feels disappointed for her nursing peers that are unable to keep doing clinicals and hopes that the coronavirus situation clears up before next semester.
“I feel like they would be very disappointed because this is a time for learning hands-on techniques that would help them in their future careers,” Bitz said.
As a future healthcare worker, Bitz said these essential employees are stepping up in a time of need and putting themselves at risk for the care of others’ health and safety.
“They have really shown that health care is more than just a paycheck, but you really have to care for others to be in this field,” Bitz said. “Most health care providers are all about their patients and residents they come in contact with, which is why they are putting themselves and possibly their families at risk.”