Remote Internships? Now That’s WISE!: WISE Program Adapts

by Christine Nappi, Features Editor

Summer 2020 meant canceled internships for many, but not for those in the Women Inspiring Successful Enterprise summer program. Although the current coronavirus pandemic may have put a damper on summer plans for most, this was only a slight bump in the road for WISE. After adjusting to the circumstances and adapting to a solely remote format, the WISE program was still able to provide internships and professional development opportunities to 22 students.

WISE is an eight-week professional development summer program that matches female undergraduate students to internships that correspond with their respective major or area of interest. In addition to an internship, students also attend professional development workshops and are provided with on-campus housing. Once returning to school in the fall, the fellows present their internships at a symposium. However, the program adapted to a virtual format this past summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of her internship with Anat Gerstein, a non- profit public relations firm, senior Casey Whittaker implemented public relations practices to promote the unveiling of the first statue of real-life women in Central Park on Aug. 26. CASEY WHITTAKER / COURTESY

“This is such an in-person program,” Rachel Cirelli, director and founder of the WISE program, said. “We adapted it, so it was fully virtual, [and] essentially, it was the same. But… there’s this nice thing about the students living together, they’re on campus together, and they didn’t get that opportunity.”

Although the pandemic may have halted internship plans for most, Cirelli ensured that the WISE fellows would still receive an internship and obtain the full WISE experience this summer. Despite students not being able to live on campus or intern in-person, Cirelli matched each student with a remote internship. The WISE fellows would attend their internships remotely each day, yet on Wednesdays, the groups would meet virtually for professional development seminars. This year, the WISE symposium will still be held while socially distancing. It will take place on Sept. 18 on the fourth floor of Kelly Commons from noon to 3 p.m.

WISE fellow Sydney Collins, a junior urban studies major with a minor in environmental studies, was a community development intern at WHED- co, a women’s housing and economic development corporation based in the Bronx. Collins in particular found the remote format to be challenging for community development endeavors, yet saw it as a beneficial learning experience.

“It was definitely a big switch because it’s community development, so not being in the community was very difficult at the beginning, but it was a lot of working towards making everything online,” Collins said. “I’m a people person, [and] the biggest challenge was just not being around people and kind of having to work on something and learn how to do it on your own, but I feel like that was almost a good kind of challenge.”

Although the WISE fellows may have missed the opportunity to complete this program in-person, Cirelli finds many benefits of the remote format. She describes that many companies could shift to remote or hybrid formats in the future, thus preparing students when they enter the workforce.

“They missed the opportunity to physically be in an environment where they could gauge if they actually just like how the whole thing feels,” Cirelli said. “But I think on the other end, we realize that environments are changing so much that maybe [being remote] is appropriate.”

Senior Casey Whittaker, a double major in marketing and global studies, was a public relations intern at Anat Gerstein, a non-profit public relations firm in Queens. Wittaker finds many benefits of having completed this internship remotely and describes it as a beneficial learning experience.

“[Being remote] was definitely different but not in a bad way,” Whittaker said. “It forced you to reach out if you had any problems and communicate more with your bosses or co- workers… you had to make that extra effort to communicate with other people, so that was definitely a benefit to it and you learned that that type of communication is so important.”

After the WISE program was complete, Whittaker had the opportunity to intern an extra month at Anat Gerstein, and the company invited her back to intern this fall.

In addition to remote internships, the WISE program itself was fully remote. As Cirelli describes, a main component of the WISE program is the community formed with the participants. She notes that students are able to meet women across all majors and establish relationships with women they may network with in the future. When living on campus, the students can more easily get to know each other and form these connections.

Despite not being on campus, Cirelli adapted the program to the virtual format to ensure a sense of community. After professional development seminars, the WISE fellows would go into breakout rooms over Google Meet to discuss topics and hear other’s viewpoints. This also gave students the opportunity to talk about how their internship was going.

Senior Ella O’Brien, an economics major and finance minor, interned as a financial analyst at American Express this summer and found that meeting with the other participants regularly helped her through her internship.

“You always think you’re the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on or you’re like I’m the only one who’s stressed out right now,” O’Brien said. “But knowing that you had people to talk to [and] come back to every week, and kind of relate to was super helpful.”

In addition to weekly Google Meets, Cirelli also created a book club where the students would meet each week in small groups, allowing them to bond with each other. As Whittaker describes, the WISE program in general is a community in itself because each participant shares a unique experience together.

“There’s a community that comes with WISE that it doesn’t matter if you’re virtual or if you’re in person,” Whittaker said. “I just learned so much professionally and ever yone was so helpful.”

Despite being remote, participants agree that they still achieved the full WISE experience. O’Brien was offered a full-time job at American Express after she graduates, an opportunity she describes as not being possible if it weren’t for WISE. She found the program to be helpful and beneficial to all participants.

“Without the WISE program, I never would have had that opportunity because I know for American Express especially they are very selective on what schools they go to,” O’Brien said. “[WISE] has been so beneficial to everyone in the program for the past years, and I know that everyone’s loved it. The more girls that sign up for it, the better I think, and try and push more people to do it.”

The program is open to females of all majors who are rising juniors and seniors. WISE is a highly competitive program, and students must have a 3.0 GPA. The application for next summer will be open this fall, and the recent participants encourage other students to apply because of how much they got out of the program, even in the remote format.

“The wise program itself is just amazing [with] everything that it stands for and does for the school, it’s one of the best programs in the school like for sure hands down,” Collins said. “[Being remote] just shows how strong the program is and how we were still able to complete a full summer being virtual and still get professional development.”

Cirelli describes how the recent WISE fellows are the forerunners of the remote work environment for being one of few to complete an internship under COVID-19, giving them a unique experience. Going remote may have not been ideal for the WISE fellows, but they still are still grateful for this learning and professional development opportunity.

“I’m really proud of the students, they really impressed me, they had really good attitudes, and they did a very good job managing up,” Cirelli said. “I’m just so proud of them, they really represented the college well [and] all the evaluations I’m getting back from the employers, they’re so impressed. I’m just really happy and grateful and I’m grateful for them for being such good ambassadors for our college.”