From a Distance: Interning in a Remote World

Gabrielle Team Photo

Gaining valuable real-world experience through a professional internship is an integral component of Rockefeller College’s MPA program. However, when the COVID-19 crisis hit the U.S. in March 2020 employers sent their workforces home, causing many internships to be put on hold or cancelled. Fortunately, with the help of Rockefeller College’s Office of Career Development, students were able to prepare for and secure remote internships in the public and private sectors, adapting to the current times. Below, three MPA students share their experiences interning from a distance in the summer of 2020.   

Zach Dickman

Program: MPA (August 2021 projected completion)
Summer 2020 Internship: Catholic Family Center (CFC), Rochester, NY

I completed my internship at a local nonprofit in Rochester, NY called Catholic Family Center (CFC). According to the organization’s mission, “Catholic Family Center partners with people — especially the vulnerable and those facing poverty — to help them achieve their full human potential. A division of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester, CFC offers compassionate and comprehensive services to families and individuals in need across all stages of life.”

My first internship before going off to college in the summer before my freshman year was done with Catholic Family Center, so my initial interest stemmed from that original experience. I was able to witness firsthand the essential and amazing services that CFC provides through my first internship. Subsequently, coming back from Washington, D.C. after the COVID-19 shutdowns in mid-March, I wanted to continue working with an organization that gives back to the community.

Zach Internship

As a Marketing and Human Resources intern, I had a wide range of roles and responsibilities including working across departments to assist with recruiting, employee relations, compliance, managing social media and fundraising, and the coordination of all agency events. The project that I would like to highlight and one that I had the privilege to participate in is the organization of the Feed the Children (FTC) Initiative. I was able to assist in the sourcing of over fifty volunteers to coordinate an all-day event that led to the distribution of food and other essential products to 400 local families.

The primary competencies I was able to develop and sharpen were my research, coordination and communication skills. I had the opportunity to conduct an analysis on the satisfaction of the workforce towards the actions the agency took in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. I was able to do the research on data captured from surveys sent out to employees and write up my findings in a memo sent to the senior leadership team. I grew my understanding of the coordination of events by organizing the agency’s first drive-thru job fair and Feed the Children events. Being remote, you spend a significant chunk of time on Zoom or other meeting platforms, so it really gave me the opportunity to get comfortable in that environment, whether giving a presentation or just talking amongst colleagues.

I intend to become a public servant at a federal agency after I graduate from the MPA program, so this experience has provided me with the foundation of serving others as a career. I learned the importance of how serving others can impact my own personal motivation in a positive way. Additionally, it has provided me with a concrete network of people I can utilize when I am seeking career opportunities in the future.

The advice I would extent to students who secure remote internships are to ensure there is a direct line of communication set up between you and your supervisor. Internships are difficult enough to navigate for the first time, so establishing that line of communication early on is such an important aspect of your success. Also, I would suggest asking for feedback on a constant basis on the work you are completing. This gives you the opportunity to grow, improve your skills and transition the habits you learn in the classroom to the workplace.

Alex Pearce

Program: MPA (May 2021 projected completion)
Summer 2020 Internship: Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan (CDPHP)

I completed my summer internship at Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan, known locally as “CDPHP.” The mission statement for CDPHP is as follows: “We provide quality health care at a reasonable cost for our subscribers and operate CDPHP as a model for the delivery, financing, and administration of health care services.”

Alex Pearce

Before my internship, I knew very little about CDPHP or the health care industry as a whole. After some research, I was drawn to the mission of CDPHP, which focuses on people, not profits. I was amazed that every time we started a new project, our first question was always, “How will this help the member?” As an MPA student, it was rewarding to be able to always have that “public service” feel to my work, even if I am not working in a traditional public service job. 

My primary roles and responsibilities were to research, understand, and inform other CDPHP team members about emerging trends in the industry. I have researched everything from financial wellness to the utilization of artificial intelligence. What I enjoyed most about my research was learning that “health care” is so much more than just going to the doctor’s office. There are so many aspects of a person’s health — physical, mental, emotional, and social — that contribute to their well-being; it has been very rewarding to work on projects that are meant to improve the lives of our members.

Being remote has emphasized the importance of communication, time management, and working on a team. This position has taught me that it is always better to ask a question than to pretend that you always have the answers. I have relied heavily on my ability to work collaboratively with others to ensure that I am always learning and doing my best work. 

This experience has honed my ability to do research and communicate my findings in a manner that is useful to those that I work with. It has also shown me how versatile an MPA degree is and how important it is to not limit yourself by thinking you can only work in a certain field. 

Never be afraid to ask questions and remember that it is okay to make mistakes! Your coworkers will always appreciate it when you draw on their expertise and are willing to learn from them. Also, do not be afraid to ask to sit in on a meeting or attend a conference. These are great ways to learn something new and hear what your coworkers are working on. 

Miguelina M. Pierre-Louis

Program: MPA, Global Affairs concentration (May 2021 projected completion)
Summer 2020 Internship: New York State Civil Service Classification and Compensation Division

This summer I completed my internship at the NYS Civil Service in the Classification and Compensation Division (C&C). I’ve interned with this Division since June 2019, so I experienced working with them in the office and remotely. The current mission of the division is to “apply New York State's equal pay for equal work policy, making sure that salary is based on an individual's duties and responsibilities and not on factors unrelated to the performance of the job.”

I was really interested in learning more about state government and human resources. This was an opportunity that gave me the chance to see how things operate at the state level.

Miguelina Headshot

As an intern, I analyzed employee’s grievances from various state agencies and provided recommendations. My recommendations would get approved by my supervisors, and then were submitted to the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations for final approval and compensation. I drafted and edited job standards, which described the duties of state employees. There isn't just one moment that served as the main highlight of my experience — I really enjoyed being able to learn from my team and the supervisors. It was a pleasure for me to intern with the state government and have a meaningfully impact on the lives of New Yorkers.

In this internship I utilized and further developed my writing skills, researching and analytical skills. My supervisors always provided me with constructive criticism for each assignment, and their guidance helped me improve.

As I complete my graduate degree, this experience gave me a preview of what it would be like to work for the government. It also gave me a look into working in the human resources field. These skillsets will be very relevant for me in the future, since I am interested in working in the international affairs/development field, working with governments and nonprofits. This experience prepared me to be well rounded in understanding the different aspects of human resources.

Although working remotely can be quite challenging, I want to encourage students to put the extra work in, so that they can build a better relationship with their employer. I always asked questions and I welcomed any recommendations that they had for me. When the Department of Labor asked the Civil Service for volunteers to help make the calls for Unemployment Insurance Claims, I volunteered and provided the extra help needed. Additionally, before each workday I had to call my supervisor to “clock in,” and I always used that time to strike up a small conversation — this helped to create a valuable connection between us. The remote internship is truly what you make of it. I was able to get just as much experience remotely as I did in the office.

Gabrielle Schwartz

Program: MPA (May 2021 projected completion)
Summer 2020 Internship: New York State Network for Youth Success

The New York State Network for Youth Success’s mission is, “To strengthen the capacity and commitment of communities, programs, and professionals to increase access to high-quality programs and services beyond the traditional classroom.”

I was interested in working with a network nonprofit, working in childcare. I wanted to grow and learn in my internship experiences and both facets were new to me. Taking this internship allowed me to grow and learn about an issue I did not have experience with.

Gabrielle Headshot

I served as an intern for the policy department where I focused on advocacy efforts for afterschool programs. Given COVID-19, many of my responsibilities included drafting up language to advocate for supports to the afterschool field. I primarily worked on planning the Network’s Power of 3:00 Ambassador program. This program is an opportunity for providers and parents to learn how to advocate for afterschool programming at the state level. I completed research for advocacy strategies, built worksheets and materials, created new segments of the presentation, was responsible for communications with ambassadors, and ultimately helped facilitate the training via Zoom.

I was able to develop my communication and collaboration skills. The virtual environment demands additional focus on effective communication. At the Network, I have grown very accustom to working on live documents and applying edits. It has helped me become a more independent worker while enhancing my ability to communicate.

I intend on working in the nonprofit field where advocacy and lobbying is important for enhancing the mission. The Network has exposed me to statewide policy work while allowing me to engage with various stakeholders. These skills are very transferrable and help me advance missions I feel passionately about in my career.

To students in remote internships, I would recommend open communication and transparency about your personal work style. Remote work makes it difficult for your supervisor to read how you are and what you are excited about. Becoming comfortable with actively communicating your needs is very important for a positive experience.