As pandemic worsens, the threat of unemployment looms for students

Career+Development+Center+Director+Carol+Spector+said+staff+members+from+career+services+have+been+working+remotely+with+students+who+applied+for+free+summer+internship+housing+through+the+college+to+help+them+find+ongoing+opportunities+this+summer.%C2%A0%2F+Photo+by+Emily+Oliver

Career Development Center Director Carol Spector said staff members from career services have been working remotely with students who applied for free summer internship housing through the college to help them find ongoing opportunities this summer. / Photo by Emily Oliver

By Abigail Hadfield, Deputy Copy Editor

Just a few weeks ago, sophomore journalism major Annie Bennett had a complete plan laid out for her summer internship and housing. 

“I was going to do the summer conference assistant job at Emerson so that I could stay in Boston this summer and get money,” she said in a phone interview from Maryland. “And then during the other part of the week, because that’s a part-time job, I was going to do an unpaid internship with a cool nonprofit doing communications, which is one of the big things I’m interested in doing.” 

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down universities, closed stores, and disrupted daily life nationwide, Bennett now faces a very unstable professional future. She represents one of the hundreds of student employees at Emerson and across the nation who are either struggling to find employment or transitioning into remote positions. 

With the spread of the coronavirus shutting down many large events and gatherings, Bennett said the likelihood that Emerson will still hold its conferences as scheduled seems slim. Bennett said the college contacted conference employees to inform them that the school is monitoring the situation, but they have not yet made any decisions.

Although Bennett’s internship is remote and unaffected by the pandemic, she would be unable to do it without an additional form of income. 

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“If the conference does get canceled, I’m out of a job,” she said. “And I’m also out of a place to live.” 

Bennett said she has applied for jobs since the campus closure while home in Maryland, but most that she’s heard back from won’t be able to make a decision on employment until late May, leaving her reeling. 

Employers across the country are canceling internships and fellowships many students looked forward to and relied on for income. Some employers have been able to transition their interns’ work remotely, but not all. 

The MIT Press, a large employer for summer internships in the Boston area, typically employs interns for the spring, summer, and fall. The book and journal publisher transitioned all but one of their current interns to a remote schedule to keep them employed, Production Coordinator Jay McNair wrote in an email.

“Regarding our plans for summer and fall internship programs, we’re waiting to see how things develop before making any decisions,” he wrote. 

Senior Brett Boon is an intern with A24, an independent entertainment company known for putting out films like Uncut Gems and Lady Bird. He started with the company at the beginning of the semester as Emerson’s campus representative, and works with student groups such as Emerson Independent Video and Frames Per Second to host campus workshops and series based around films. 

“We had to cancel a really wonderful series that was going to be based around the new movie, Saint Maud, with Women in Motion,” Boon said in a phone interview from New Jersey. “It was all about women in horror. I was kind of disappointed because I spent two months working on it, I had all these posters, and I had to take everything home with me.” 

A24 reached out to Boon when it became clear that college campuses were rapidly closing, to let him know that he could maintain his paid position remotely. 

“I’m really thankful that A24 has continued, just because my other job [with The Emerson Channel] is not giving me anything,” he said. “I understand that times are stressful, but this is also what I depend on.”

Career Development Center Director Carol Spector said the week of the internship fair, which had been scheduled for April 1, is normally the office’s busiest time of the semester. However, in the wake of students moving out of the dorms, she said the office is quieter than usual. Spector said she expects the office to see more traffic as students settle into home life, as well as following the Virtual Career Fair that the office launched on March 30. 

“Hopefully, now that students are a little settled with their online classes, they can come back to this topic and figure out, ‘What do I need to do in the next month?’” she said in a phone interview.

Spector confirmed that students who were completing internships for academic credit this semester will still receive full credit even if they are not able to continue their work, since students can still remotely complete the corresponding class that goes with their internship.

Spector said students who are now unable to complete summer internships could consider pursuing other options that would help further their career goals. 

“Are there options to do some online learning, volunteering in a field that makes sense, ways to build your portfolio, to write things, create things, film things?” Spector said. “What can you do to get your specialty ready so that in six to 12 months you’re in a better position to be a good candidate for whatever you’re going after?” 

College students are among several groups who may not benefit from the $1,200 stimulus checks currently being provided by the U.S. government. Students who are claimed as dependents do not receive aid, and families do not receive any aid for children over the age of 16. This leaves many college students without financial relief while facing unemployment.  

Spector suggested that graduating students in the class of 2020 seeking full-time employment should find ways to independently build their skills after graduation while searching for a job, even if it means finding one that isn’t in their desired industry. 

“I don’t think many students who graduate stay with that first job forever,” she said. “So it’s your first position, and then you see where things go, and within six to 12 months, you start looking at something else. Maybe that opens up more for what you really wanted when you graduated. Which is not great, but it’s not a bad option if you can manage that.”

Many students are also struggling to find an in-between job to provide income while they search for something closer aligned with their interests. Bennett noted that typical part-time summer jobs are hard to come by during a pandemic. 

“If all the restaurants are still closed, and the camp that I used to work for as a part-time counselor when I was in high school is closed, I’m not even sure I could get a menial summer job,” Bennett said. 

Spector said staff members from career services have been working remotely with students who applied for free summer internship housing through the college to help them find ongoing opportunities this summer despite the outbreak. 

Spector encouraged students to reach out to the Career Development Center for help navigating both internship and job search application processes. The center remains open during the summer and is available for virtual appointments. The college is exploring other options to help students who qualified for summer housing who are unable to find an internship, Spector said. 

“Maybe as an option instead, we might be able to connect them with industry professionals and mentorships in lieu of the housing piece,” she said. “So it’s something else they’re given because they qualified for this program.”