In the fall of 2019, my first semester of sophomore year, I received an email that confirmed I had been chosen for an internship at a local newspaper for the following spring semester. After a year at GW, I could finally breathe just a little bit easier, knowing that I too, could slip the phrase “at my internship…” casually into conversations with people I didn’t know.
But fast forward to March 2020, just two months after I had begun the internship, the editor of the newspaper took me aside and told me that he had to let me go because “this coronavirus thing” was getting worse and the newsroom wouldn’t have the capacity to keep an intern. I spent the rest of the semester dejected and lost, not sure what to do. Looking back, it would have been helpful if someone from my department had reached out to students and offered support in light of lost internships and a worsening pandemic that was sure to affect the job market.
But all is not lost, and individual departments can still rectify their approach to helping students quell their anxiety about internships by setting up online resources for finding internships and increasing communication between the department and students. GW’s internship culture should be something that officials encourage healthy engagement with and support their students through. Each department should be making an effort to make their students feel secure in their career prospects after college. Giving the entire student body a Handshake account and leaving it at that is not sufficient for finding job opportunities.
As a history major, my job prospects are fairly nebulous. I’m less than one year out from graduating, and I have little concept of what career options history majors have outside of academia. The first thing that each department can do is maintain a page on their website with internship and job listings that are continually updated. They should also make this link well-known to students in their respective department by emailing students periodically about upcoming deadlines for internship applications. The listings would make the search process easier and less arduous.
The art history department’s website includes a page with extensive links to internship opportunities, and other departments that don’t have such listings should follow their example. The history department provides a list of museums and organizations that students can look into for potential opportunities, but it lacks an updated list of specific internship or job descriptions. The department should also periodically send students a newsletter specifically with history-related internship listings, making the internship search easier and more accessible. The School of Media and Public Affairs’ internship listing newsletter – Above the Fold – is an excellent example of the continuous engagement with students about career opportunities that other departments should follow.
I know very few of my fellow history majors, and befriending more might have helped me feel less alone in my pursuit of a career with a history degree in my back pocket. Smaller departments in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, like the history department, should make an effort to create a sense of community by hosting social and networking events. SMPA is also a great example for other departments to model community building. When I was pondering a journalism major in the first semester of my sophomore year, and was taking several courses in SMPA, I came to know many of the students in SMPA through repeated meetings in classes and events like the SMPA Kickoff Event and small-group Q&A’s with Terker Fellows.
During my time at GW and my stressful pursuit of internships, I had to first figure out what I wanted to do after I left school, then figure out how to network. I was lucky enough to figure out both through a campus organization, but the pressure to network and find mentors should not be left solely on the individual student. Instead, department heads should continuously reach out to their students via email and through community-building events, and offer their expertise in the field. I would also be interested in meeting friends of professors who work in the history field, but perhaps do something outside of academia.
I was only on campus for less than two years before the pandemic hit, and was only a history major toward the end of that time period because I didn’t declare my major until the end of my sophomore year. Like students, I’m sure the department navigated challenges transferring programming to Zoom, but now that we’re in person, I hope that the department takes some time to reevaluate their outreach approach to students when it comes to networking and introducing them to alumni.
The pandemic may have derailed my internship plans after March of 2020 (I haven’t been able to corral one since), but individual departments can still improve their outreach to students. Internship fever doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and students are just as stressed out about their careers as they were when the pandemic began more than a year ago. Community building, internship listings and continuous outreach and support can make all the difference in shaping a student’s relationship to seeking out internships.
Shreeya Aranake, a senior majoring in history, is the contributing opinions editor.