For college students, the pandemic put the brakes on a critical part of their lives. For many, the final years of college are an opportunity to learn what they like and dislike about the “real world” through internships. It’s a time to adjust to workplace environments, hone their professional skills and get ready for the next step in their adulthood. How can they do that when everything goes virtual?
At the Fox School of Business, Corinne Snell, associate dean of the Center for Student Professional Development (CSPD), joined forces with Gary Blau and Daniel Goldberg, faculty members in the Department of Human Resource Management, to understand the importance of continued professional development activities for students during the pandemic.
“When things went virtual in March of 2020, we knew we had to quickly shift the way we delivered services to students,” recalls Snell. “Professor Blau saw the work that we were doing and wanted to explore it further.”
CSPD did shift, moving to support students in a virtual manner, from online coaching appointments to employer recruitment support. This quick pivot created the opportunity to study how internships, both virtual and in-person, affect a student’s professional outcomes after graduation.
The three researchers used the annual Senior Student Satisfaction Survey (SSSS) to understand how the changes in the pre-pandemic vs. pandemic environment impact students’ professional development. Over 1,000 students over two semesters—spring 2019 and spring 2020, representing both pre-pandemic and early pandemic eras—participated in the survey.
“The goal of this study was to demonstrate the continued importance of career professional development center support for business-related internships influencing student professional development engagement and anticipated employment upon graduation,” writes Blau.
The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Education and Learning earlier this year. In their article, the team found that students with at least one internship experience are more likely to participate in additional professional development activities, including joining a student professional organization (SPO) and attending SPO meetings, as well as influencing their outlook on anticipated full-time employment after graduation. This held true for both the pre-pandemic graduates and the students who were seniors at the onset of the pandemic.
Early in the pandemic, Snell carefully watched the changes in the employment market and its impact on Fox students. “Even though unemployment numbers were high in the first few months, the college recruiting landscape fared pretty well,” she says. “Whereas we saw some employers who cut back on their hiring, a large number still moved forward with their internship and full time hiring plans.
“Because our corporate partners shifted their operating mode with current employees so quickly, many realized they could do the same with their interns,” Snell continues. “The whole recruitment process transitioned to a virtual one. CSPD helped prepare students for this change and how to best present themselves in a virtual world.”
As college campuses, including at Temple University, begin to reopen, the researchers hope that other career services centers can implement the lessons learned over the past year. At the Fox School, CSPD continues to offer virtual services in conjunction with in-person availability two days a week. “We have also seen an interest in evening appointments, something we started offering this past year,” says Snell. “Because those appointments have filled quickly, we plan to continue those offerings for fall 2021.”