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An Unexpected Journey

Gillian Walch, a senior majoring in English, never considered the possibility of interning remotely until March 2020 when the world went online.

Many students have adjusted their plans in the past year: where to live, how to study, even how to simply interact with other people. For students needing internships for work experience or graduation, their plans turned upside-down overnight due to the pandemic.

Gillian Walch, a senior majoring in English, never considered the possibility of interning remotely until March 2020 when the world went online. Walch interned with Future House Publishing in Provo during fall 2020, and despite not having a traditional internship, her experience was no less educational. “[My internship] gave me a lot of insight and it made me realize that publishing is exactly what I want to do with my career,” said Walch. “They gave me a lot of hands on experience, even though it was all remote.”

Although her internship originally dealt with marketing, Walch also had the opportunity to work with the editing team at Future House Publishing. The company even allowed her to edit a chapter of a book for publication, an opportunity that she might not have had if her internship had been in-person. 

“Students are naturally pushed when they’re in a live-work context,” said Danny Damron, a College of Humanities internship coordinator. “[Students] are not getting that sort of opportunity as much, so we have had to make up the slack by reaching out in more personal ways than we have in the past, instead of relying on organic things that might come up.”

Abby Thatcher, a senior studying interdisciplinary humanities and English, works as a teaching assistant for Damron. As a mentor for students doing remote internships, Thatcher sees the struggles and successes of these students firsthand. “[Remote internships] require students to demonstrate greater initiative because if you don’t send that Slack message, you aren’t going to get that opportunity. If you don’t send that email, then communication for that day is never going to happen because you’re in two entirely different places and sometimes even two different time zones. I think it helps [students] develop more fully as professionals.”

With many students changing their plans after the cancellation of international internships, domestic internship programs needed to adjust to meet the new and increasing demand of internship opportunities at home. “We’re certainly seeing a lot of domestic internships develop, and then even ones that are here on BYU campus,” said Thatcher. “We used to primarily serve international internships and now our focus has become much more domestic. So, still plenty to learn within the area.”

Ashley Best, a junior studying woodwind performance and minoring in French, also works as a TA for Dr. Damron. She said, “because we can’t do any foreign internships or international internships, it eliminates the factor of a lot of students doing those internships purely for the cultural experience and not necessarily to grow professionally. We kind of narrowed it down to people that are actually looking to have an experience that can really enhance their resume.”

Walch was particularly happy that her internship was remote, stating, “[since] it was an unpaid internship, I got to keep my normal job. I got to still do classes on the side. Also, I just got married. I didn’t want to go to a different state or, heaven forbid, a different country when I had just gotten married.”

“[The] biggest lesson [I] learned was flexibility. Mostly because, at least in the pandemic, [everything is] sort of up in the air, and you don’t know what you’re doing and the other people on the other side of the computer don’t know what they’re doing. And that’s okay. It takes flexibility and communication to achieve your common goal,” Walch said.  “I’ve found something that I can actually do professionally. That was a really big takeaway, that it is possible to find something that you’re good at, even if it is remote.”

This article appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Humanities alumni magazine.