Career Prep Amid a Global Pandemic
During COVID-19, Bennington College’s Office of Career Development and Field Work Term has worked alongside students to support their internship and career goals by offering increased flexibility, expanded work options, and staff support, even amid a global pandemic and economic recession.
Since the College’s founding, creating hands-on learning experiences has always been one of Bennington’s top priorities. Through annual Field Work Term experiences, Bennington students test their classroom ideas in the world of work—building professional networks, expanding educational interests, and refining career goals along the way.
However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the current national landscape of internship opportunities available to students has radically shifted.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 22% of employers revoked their summer 2020 internships due to COVID-19 concerns. Of those employers who proceeded with internships, 46% did so through remote programs.
With the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic—and its long-term economic impact—still unknown, many employers are taking a “wait and see” approach to internships offered over the coming academic year.
As Bennington students prepare for their next round of Field Work Term experiences, which typically take place over the winter, the College’s Office of Career Development and Field Work Term has been working to expand 2021 Field Work Term options and increase flexibility for students, allowing them to meet their educational and career goals safely and effectively during this uncertain time.
My [remote internship] experience at IFTF has expanded what I think I can do at Bennington and beyond.
Kayly Hernandez Panameno '22
“During a typical year, the vast majority of Bennington students complete internships over the six-week Field Work Term in January and February,” said Faith McClellan, Associate Dean of Work-Integrated Learning. “However, this year has been anything but typical, and we expect most students and employers to shift away from in-person internships this winter. Instead, we are seeing increased interest in remote winter internships, more students deferring until the summer—when they can pursue Research Experiences for Undergraduate and other prestigious opportunities—and students utilizing on-campus jobs to count for Field Work Term.”
In response to student interest, the Office of Career Development and Field Work Term has also launched a platform for students to pursue paid, short-term “micro-internships” that dovetail with student entrepreneurial interest and the surge in the freelance marketplace.
The College has also increased resources to professional certification courses on platforms like Lynda, where students can learn marketable skills to enhance their resumes or improve their professional behaviors. These online courses can be bundled and taken for Field Work Term hours. Students are challenged to articulate the courses’ binding themes of development and how that will bring them closer to their career aspirations.
“Students have been actively seeking enhanced flexibility in Field Work Term content and timing,” said McClellan. “COVID-19 disrupted traditional internship structures, but we were also able to use it as an opportunity, making a conscious decision to re-imagine the Field Work Term timeline and expand our types of offerings.”
Students are also being tapped as leaders in this recalibration. The College has been working with the Student Educational Policies Committee (SEPC) representatives to generate interest and student conversations around Field Work Term through a new Career Conversations blog and Instagram.
Preparing for the Future
Over the summer, Kayly Hernandez Panameno ’22 worked remotely as a Research Intern at the Institute for the Future (IFTF), a future-focused think tank based in Palo Alto, CA.
“IFTF prepares clients for ways their organizations can improve by analyzing current trends,” said Hernandez Panameno. “They use a concept called STEEP—which looks at situations socially, technologically, environmentally, economically, and politically—to forecast changes and help clients prepare for the future.”
One of Hernandez Panameno’s research projects at IFTF centered on the agricultural industry in California. Along with four other interns, her team created a design plan of what protective gear for migrant farm workers could look like in the future.
“Nearly 90% of California’s pickers and farmworkers are non-citizen Latinos,” said Hernandez Panameno. “They aren’t given any protections, including with their working gear. With California’s wildfires, and now concerns over COVID-19, there are many conditions and health concerns that better protective clothing could help improve.”
The remote nature of the internship also came with new opportunities for Hernandez Panameno. IFTF hosts an annual Ten-Year Forecast Summit, a flagship conference that presents research and findings on the ways a critical theme will frame changes over the next decade.
“Since COVID-19 hit, they had to move the conference to a virtual platform,” said Hernandez Panameno. “So I got the chance to create a video for their 300+ clients as part of their Youtube livestream, which had over 1,000 people registered to watch.”
This remote internship was a shift for Hernandez Panameno, who spent her previous Field Work Term at XTR, a nonfiction film and television studio founded by Bryn Mooser ’01.
Hernandez Panameno’s studies at Bennington initially focused on a Plan in storytelling, encompassing documentary filmmaking, fiction, and novel writing. Her internship at IFTF, however, “significantly changed” her considerations.
“My experience at IFTF has expanded what I think I can do at Bennington and beyond,” said Hernandez Panameno. “It’s made me want to pursue more research-intensive work. I never used to think in terms of future technologies, but I’m a lot more aware of that now. This internship also made me realize that I enjoy hands-on collaborative work. I think I’ll still pursue creative endeavors, but I’ll combine them with my new interest in the tech world.”
Spotlighting BIPOC Climate Artists and Activists
The virtual grass-roots community Theatre Without Borders connects theater artists and institutions worldwide with networking and partnership opportunities—an important tool at the best of times, and all the more so during COVID-19, as artists and organizations pivot to online creative projects.
Over the summer, Imara-rose Glymph ’23 spent her Field Work Term interning remotely for Theater Without Borders, during which she worked closely with Artists & Climate Change, a partner organization that highlights projects and voices that work at the intersection of climate change and the arts.
This summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the resulting resurgence of Black Lives Matter-related protests and activism, Artists & Climate Change became interested in creating more pathways for their work to support Black artists and voices.
“I came into this internship knowing that we would be organizing for environmental justice, and that I would be writing, but everything else was open ended,” said Glymph. “As I started, Artists & Climate Change were brainstorming ways to connect with Black Lives Matter, and I had been organizing online, as well as going to rallies. So together, we brainstormed about the need for a specific series for POC voices on their website, recognizing that there was a lack of representation on the platform.”
Seeing an opportunity, Glymph worked with the organization to create a compilation of Black artists and storytellers whose authentic work engaged with this series.
“We needed this compilation because when we began, we looked up topics like, ‘Top 10 artists engaging with climate change,’ and almost all of our searches led us to people who were white and associated with an established institution—there was a notable class divide,” said Glymph. “So we compiled our own list, and then I decided I wanted to speak to some of these people. I sent out emails to makers, scientists, and artists, researched their work, and started interviewing them.”
The articles that resulted from Glymph’s hours of researching, interviewing, transcribing, writing, and editing became the foundation for Black Artists and Storytellers, a series published through Artists & Climate Change’s website.
Among Glymph’s most interactive experiences was her interview with Trace DePass, a percussive eco-poet who works at the Climate Museum in New York City.
“He read four or five of his poems to me, from his book that hadn’t been released yet. It was a wonderful feast for the ears,” said Glymph. “We also talked about how people were adapting during COVID-19, how people can organize when we cannot be in person.”
For DePass, and as was a common theme Glymph found with many of her interviewees, creating online educational experiences was essential to artists.
“Trace had been working on this project called Climate Speaks, which is a slam poetry and literature sharing event offered through the Climate Museum,” said Glymph. “They had incorporated a team of passionate high school juniors and seniors, so they switched over to Zoom meetings, and a Youtube livestream of the event.”
During an interview, eco-rapper DJ CAVEM Moetavation described his own adaptations to Glymph.
“DJ CAVEM had been planning a tour before COVID-19 happened, which had to be delayed,” said Glymph. “He ended up making these albums that contained arugula, beet, and kale seeds—called BIOMIMICZ, after his most-recent EP—as an innovative way to engage with the public, and he sent them to people who had bought tickets for the tour. His previous album, The Produce Section, is actually full of lessons on plant-based recipes, organic gardening, and alternative uses of energy. I thought his work was innovative, and such a meaningful way for a creator to connect with their audience.”
Now back at Bennington, Glymph realized that her Field Work Term experience has given a shape to her Bennington studies.
“I came into Bennington knowing that I wanted to take scientific discovery and blend it with artistic creation, and I’m now molding that further into Afrofuturism, Ecology, and Dance and Theatre,” said Glymph. “I want to look at how people of color use multimedia approaches to experience catharsis.”
Glymph also knows that many of the skills she developed during her internship will serve her well in future experiences.
“I’ve learned the importance of being able to work independently and be self-directed,” said Glymph. “My team supported me in a collaborative environment where I was encouraged to transform into a direct, clear communicator. I was advised to start off with succinct information, and then build upon it. That encourages the person who is receiving the email or the question to be flexible and add more to the conversation, instead of overwhelming them with too many facts.”
The circumstances of her work—and of COVID-19’s effects at large—also helped Glymph develop patience and flexibility.
“Everything is malleable and can change,” said Glymph. “I sometimes had to scrap ideas and start again, or incorporate revisions from a person I’d interviewed. I hadn’t realized how much of the work is editing. I spent the majority of that time going back and forth, getting permissions, and making sure everything was true to them—capturing someone’s voice in an article is a tricky beast.”
Computer Science for Public Good
For Andrea Tovar ’23, her remote summer Field Work Term debugging social welfare and public healthcare software at Accenture was her first foray into gaining hands-on experience working at a Computer Science-related job.
“I was part of the products and platform team, which has a system that various states have adopted into their government programs to make it easier for people to apply for benefits,” said Tovar. “It makes the process a lot easier. Before people apply, they can check if they are eligible by putting in simple information like their name and income. Then, they can continue their application and submit any documents through the system, and they can even renew benefits, all through that website. All the information is presented there, step by step.”
Over eight weeks, Tovar worked as part of a remote team, where she fixed platform bugs and also worked with another intern on writing a program that would automatically import incidents registered by the website into an Excel sheet where clients could access incident information.
“Going into Bennington, I knew that I wanted to study Computer Science, but I didn’t know what kind of job I might want to do,” said Tovar. “By doing this internship, it opened my eyes to the different opportunities I have with Computer Science. In my team, there were different people, from maintenance to developers, and being able to see the different roles that people had gave me new opportunities to explore.”
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer