Adapting & Thriving Through 2020

When the world ground to a halt in March 2020, TWC—like many other organizations— transformed overnight. The dedication and agility of TWC’s Academic Internships, Seminars and Federal Programs staff ensured the best experience possible for students, employers and agency partners.

“With a virtual internship program, you are still gaining vital career experience. You develop a better understanding about what you value from your career and work environment. The pandemic has permanently changed the way we will work, and a virtual internship is an opportunity to embrace these changes and use them to propel you forward.”

Hannah Jacobson, Fall 2020 Academic Internship Program participant

Keeping (Virtual) Doors Open for Our Students

As the COVID-19 pandemic began, the abrupt transition to all-virtual programming—followed by a gradual adjustment to a mix of virtual and hybrid working environments—presented many challenges for TWC’s Academic Internship Program (AIP). But these experiences provided unanticipated opportunities to build upon initiatives TWC had recently seeded to better meet student and employer needs.

Over the past few years, TWC has increased its emphasis on components of career readiness that have risen to become top priorities for both employers and employees, such as diversity, equity and inclusion; wellness and wellbeing; and career design. “This programming was going to move forward regardless, but I think the pandemic and this different method of transmitting information helped us go beyond what we originally planned for these series,” says AIP Director Avi Criden.

For example, a three-session program focused on diversity, equity and inclusion grew into a six-part series that delved deep into elements like allyship in the workplace, the legal manifestations of diversity, equity and inclusion, the obligations of employers and a virtual networking session for students interested in pursuing diversity, equity and inclusion-focused careers.

TWC started offering asynchronous learning modules for the first time during the pandemic. Participants have long voiced their desire for more flexibility in fulfilling their professional development program requirements. By the spring 2022 semester, TWC plans to offer a menu of at least 20 asynchronous professional development modules.

“A large percentage of our students have additional responsibilities they’re carrying—whether it’s a course on campus, taking care of a loved one or a part-time job,” Criden says. “We have started to work toward allowing our students to complete their professional development programming on their own terms.”

At the same time, TWC students actively sought more interpersonal connection through career advising than ever before. Prior to COVID-19, about 35 percent of AIP students participated in career advising. Since the onset of the pandemic, that rate has risen to 51 percent. Of those students, 40 percent scheduled follow-up appointments—noteworthy considering the short time span of AIP programs.

“We want to continue to see those numbers increase so that our students feel less alone,” Criden says. “They say that in 10 years, 50 percent of the jobs that will exist haven’t even been invented yet. That’s a hard thing to wrap your head around when you’re a 20-year-old. We’re working on how to help prepare these students for the constant reinvention they’ll experience.”

“I now have a clear understanding of what it means to work and operate in a pandemic. I have proven to myself and others that I can work from home and complete the mission in the same efficient manner. I have adopted new learning and working strategies to continue being successful in my everyday life. ”

Jacob Travis, Summer 2020 Veterans Employment Trajectory (VET) Initiative program participant

Deepening Our Partnerships with Federal Agencies

TWC has managed dozens of successful federal internship and fellowship programs for decades. Partnerships with those agencies strengthened further in 2020, when TWC helped federal agencies maintain their internship programs through multiple waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Early in the pandemic, federal agencies were facing three options: wait out the circumstances to determine if in-person internships would be possible in the summer, cancel the programs altogether or transition the programming to virtual internships,” recalls Jung Ran Lim, TWC’s vice president for federal and customized initiatives.

When agencies expressed concern about whether they could provide enough work hours to engage their interns remotely, TWC presented them with lessons learned and best practices the organization developed over the spring semester. They proposed being flexible about the number of work hours per week and offered the agencies a menu of professional development sessions for students that could be customized and delivered during students’ office hours by TWC staff or the agencies’ in-house experts.

TWC’s Federal team also served as a connector for agencies to share important information with one another. One of the biggest roadblocks agencies faced in launching virtual internships was acquiring security clearances for interns―a process that traditionally could only happen in person. One of TWC’s partners, the Federal Aviation Administration, determined a way to navigate the security clearance process virtually, and TWC staff shared that information with other agencies to facilitate the onboarding of their interns. Participants expressed gratitude for the opportunity to complete federal internships, even if they were disappointed they could not work in person. As an organization, TWC was grateful to keep the doors to these opportunities open for them.

“We recognized early on that the students we serve through our federal programs are from diverse backgrounds, and the stipends they receive from their internships are important to covering their living expenses for the summer,” Lim says. Feedback from federal agency partners has been quite positive. Some agencies, such as the U.S. Census Bureau, will continue to offer virtual internships through the Civic Digital Fellowship for the near term―and perhaps longer. The U.S. Department of Transportation chose to extend virtual internships for 15 interns through the following academic year. And several new agencies have reached out to TWC to discuss establishing partnerships thanks to positive referrals from current agency partners.

“We’ve built a more collaborative process with the agencies than we had before the pandemic,” Lim says. “We are offering more creative solutions, and they trust us as a reliable partner, not just a contractor.”

“The greatest thing TWC offers is opportunity. Not everyone seizes an opportunity when they’re lucky enough to be given one. That’s what TWC was for me.”

Jason Sullivan, Federal Aviation Administration Internship Program participant