Scottish poet Robert Burns’ often quoted adage about the best laid plans of mice and men going awry has proven as true in 2020 as it was when he wrote it in 1785. As the coronavirus pandemic caused upheaval, cancellations, and contingency plans to impact nearly every facet of life, its lethal potential forced changes to education and employment opportunities at nearly every turn.
For McIntire students who expected to start their internships this summer at locations across the country, the emergency situation resulted in invitations being withdrawn or severely redesigned to accommodate precautions necessitated by COVID-19. But students’ initiative and vision—coupled with the proactive and creative approach of McIntire’s Commerce Career Services (CCS) team—led to productive, rewarding, and unanticipated outcomes that stand to benefit others for some time to come.
“When the crisis began, we were able to quickly move all services and programs to a virtual platform, allowing for no interruption in our ability to provide timely, effective coaching and support to any student in need,” recalls Sarah Rogis, Director of Undergraduate Career Development with CCS.
Eager to help, CCS promptly checked in with students via email, encouraging conversation and answering the many questions students had about the uncertainty. CCS followed up by hosting two town halls; the online events served as a forum for open dialogue that focused on inquiries about the impact of the crisis on aspects of the job search, career exploration process, networking, and recruiting. The CCS team endeavored to keep students aware of other experiences that suddenly became available. While many previously promised doors were slamming shut, a host of surprising new ones were opening wide.
“We crafted a portal post that showcased resources generated by the University Career Center and broader UVA career community, featuring opportunities for micro-internships, skills- or project-based learning, certification and skills training, remote job boards, and ways to make the most out of a virtual experience. These efforts led to more personal one-one-one virtual coaching sessions in which our team partnered with students to brainstorm next steps,” Rogis says.
In some cases, those sessions yielded immediate results for those who were looking to replace lost internships. For others, it was part of a longer trajectory that led to self-started ventures that no one could have seen coming.
A Change of Place
Though off Grounds now, rising fourth-year Preetha Ganapathy (McIntire ’21) already plans to stick around after graduating: The Accounting concentrator hopes to pursue a master’s in the field at the Commerce School.
In the meantime, she’s interning as a Business Systems Analyst at IT and business consulting services firm CGI. For her, the unanticipated changes are twofold: 1) She’s learning a good deal of new skills in platforms such as Microsoft Power Apps, Power BI, and Visual Studio through the project she’s been assigned this summer, and 2) it’s all happening online.
“It was definitely a little strange meeting the other interns, my team leads, and managers in a virtual setting for the first time. However, the team leads have been working really hard to create events, such as virtual happy hours, to give us the opportunity to get to know each other and connect on a more personal level,” Ganapathy says.
Yet the most challenging part of her internship has been adapting to the completely virtual nature of the program. Having committed to her internship earlier in the year, she is now approaching the position from a different vantage point than originally planned. No longer intending to become a business analyst, but rather a CPA, she’s encouraged by the practical, versatile applications of the functional and technical skills she’s picking up during her internship.
She intends to share what she’s learned with those who may benefit from her experiences. In the academic year ahead, Ganapathy will also be supporting CCS as a career peer coach—a position she’s “super excited” about and feels well-prepared to assume with full confidence.
“I was a bit overwhelmed coming into my third year at McIntire with my course load, the new environment, and the internship and career recruiting process, so I am familiar with how stressful that time can be. All the more reason as to why I’d love to be able to help and support people through their third year in any way I possibly can.”
Another rising fourth-year, Jarrod Tanedo (McIntire ’21), began an internship with Wells Fargo as a Financial Analyst in early July. He’s working with the banking giant’s commercial real estate group out of Charlotte, NC, and like Ganapathy, his placement became a virtual one. That was the first of the major changes: It was also trimmed down from 10 weeks to five.
When the Accounting and Finance concentrator received an email from Wells Fargo in mid-April regarding adjustments to the pandemic, he admits that he feared the worst.
“I was so relieved to find that the internship wasn’t cancelled. I was also pleasantly surprised and appreciative to learn that the compensation of the original offer letter would still be honored,” he says.
While Tanedo notes that the situation isn’t ideal, he’s grateful for Wells Fargo’s willingness to accommodate the changes necessitated by the pandemic, as well as his boss’s open communication. The position still fits into his long-term goal of securing a role as a financial analyst or accountant with a large institution.
He’s taken an optimistic view of the situation and the additional time he’s been afforded, using it to apply to scholarships, focus on his physical health, and spend time with his family and friends in Virginia Beach, VA.
In August, Tanedo will be taking part in a two-day externship in Government & Public Services (GPS) Risk and Financial Advisory at the Northern Virginia offices of Deloitte.
“I’ll engage in several workshops, networking, and their GPS practices. In addition, at the end of the externship, I will have the opportunity to interview for a full-time role,” he says. “I’m hoping to learn more about Deloitte’s workplace and make connections with the members of their GPS practice. At this point, I’m confident that McIntire has prepared me to learn and build on technical skills that are required for a job, so the bigger question is, would I be a good fit for Deloitte’s culture? I think that the externship is a perfect way to figure that out.”
Acclimating to the Unusual
Sean Azami (McIntire ’21), who’s concentrating in Accounting and IT and has a Business Spanish minor from the College, also saw the length of his internship halved.
Having served as an EMT in high school, he first arrived at UVA with the intention of applying to the School of Medicine, but changed course and applied to McIntire after finding what he calls his true passion. Driven by a goal to work for an international company and with a diverse set of clients, Azami remains excited to be learning a great deal about financial services practices while honing his auditing skills with EY, even if the five-week virtual placement has made it particularly difficult for him to gauge the cultural fit of the Big Four firm from a distance.
“Although I just started my internship, I am really excited to get back to a daily routine,” he says. “I am already learning a lot and am looking forward to working with clients as it progresses. I think that my experience and McIntire has helped me adapt to being a leader in my internship and being able to adjust to these unusual circumstances.”
Like Tanedo, Azami sought out additional business experiences. That took him to PwC’s Elevate program, a one-day virtual event with the firm’s capital markets and accounting advisory services (CMAAS) practice. Having participated in the program offers an internship post-graduation/pre-graduate school if Azami takes that route.
“If I do choose to go ahead with the PwC offer, I look forward to experiencing how CMAAS combines accounting, finance, and consulting,” he says.
Whatever happens, Azami remains assured in the belief that his many experiences at the Commerce School learning how to give professional presentations and expertly read financial statements instilled in him a readiness to adapt under inexact and potentially uncomfortable circumstances. It also gave him the leadership skills that are helping him to stand out during his internship.
And though the self-proclaimed extrovert has had difficulty dealing with the loss of in-person activities and the onset of a less rigid routine, he’s used the flexible time to be a part of a newly formed nonprofit tutoring service. J&E Tutoring, launched with Jenny Cao (McIntire ’21), Stephanie Tran (A&S ’20), and Eric Zhang (McIntire ’21), is a free tutoring program that connects college students who lost their internship with K-12 students during the pandemic. J&E (Jobs & Education Tutoring) hopes to expand its one-on-one grade school program to offer counseling, resume workshops, and interview preparation for young people navigating the early part of their career—an area of expertise in which Azami will likely excel.
Making an Impact
Azami isn’t the only McIntire rising fourth-year who, due in large part to the pandemic, found purpose through the creation of an education startup.
Ana Stanisavljev (McIntire ’21), a Management and Marketing concentrator and double major in Spanish, was studying abroad at IE University in Madrid, Spain, when the coronavirus hit. She returned to Virginia, where, in addition to waking up at 4:30 in the morning to attend her online classes still being held across the Atlantic, she found herself faced with procuring an internship for the summer. Ultimately, her resourcefulness resulted in both finding a placement and prompting her to found her own nonprofit.
Because of her interest in branding and messaging, Stanisavljev applied for and secured a marketing and advertising internship with Washington, D.C.-based virtual reality startup Viva Vita.
The situation has been an overwhelmingly positive one.
“The team leadership has been great at providing work that fits my interests so far, and even though we are remote, the internship has been engaging and exciting. Another reason why I am passionate about working at Viva Vita is that I’m working in a startup environment. The team is small, and the work that I am doing is actually making a huge difference! I am a self-starter, so this type of work environment excites me and is something I’m passionate about,” Stanisavljev says.
She credits a great deal of the skills she learned at McIntire for helping her navigate her internship experience, with presentation skills, marketing knowledge, and understanding of organizational behavior coming into play.
If it isn’t enough that Stanisavljev is virtually interning for a company that brings virtual reality to seniors, consider that she launched her startup Student Impact to give her fellow students a way to help K-12 students, and in turn, enjoyed enough success in the process to offer internships herself.
After founding the nonprofit and enlisting five women for her leadership team (UVA students and one UCLA student working out of Seattle), she interviewed K-12 teachers and learned about the challenges their students faced. Stanisavljev and her team were spurred to provide immediate resources for learners that they could take advantage of before the academic year ended as well as during the summer months.
She notes that part of the impetus for providing their support was that it provided a platform for student leadership.
“As students, we often have no say nor leadership over the educating process. We should speak up and take leadership! Especially during a time when only students are truly understanding the direct impact of online learning on students.”
If Student Impact’s impressive staff growth is any measure, the results have been particularly encouraging. Stanisavljev says they’ve brought on a treasurer, brought in more tutors, and have offered internships to 17 people.
“We have a team of 19 tutors working with us who are a part of our growing tutoring network. Our interns are split into four teams–Summer Analysts, Graphic Design, Video Production, and Social Media Marketing. And lastly, we have 29 student ambassadors on our team. There are two student ambassador groups: Fundraising and Community Outreach. There are now 72 members of Student Impact!”
In addition to their free Tuesday tutoring program for K-12 students, they’ve hosted a writing competition for middle and high school students to create free reading content for 5- to 10-year-olds, as well as a leadership skill-building Summer Community Leadership Program. Student Impact has also partnered with two Virginia elementary schools, Clark Elementary School (Charlottesville, VA) and Carlin Springs Elementary School (Arlington, VA), to provide 1,800 books for student summer reading.
Looking ahead, Stanisavljev plans to continue working with educators as they prepare for the fall—in whatever form learning takes.
“I hope that we can provide consulting services to school systems, schools, and teachers in order to prepare for a virtual learning environment ahead. We want to think creatively about how to better engage students online, and how learning can be shifted to better accommodate the online environment.”
More Than Silver Linings
Reflecting on the resiliency of the students she and her team have advised, Rogis notes that students are grappling with a more dynamic and challenging hiring landscape than she or her team have seen in years. The upside has come from the students’ ability to deal positively with the uncertainty—a refrain echoed by the students themselves—and a trait that she believes they will be able to rely on throughout their working lives.
“CCS coaches have been inspired by the creativity, nimbleness, and flexibility that McIntire students have shown in the face of this crisis. We have also appreciated the opportunity it has afforded our team to work with students to thoughtfully reexamine goals and to create and ideate in new ways,” she says. “The crisis has also allowed our students to demonstrate true career agility—a skill that will serve them well as they navigate a world of work that only continues to evolve, and to forge the most successful of careers.”