Students face uncertainty as companies cancel internships

By Fiona O'Brien | April 14, 2020 1:36pm

With the world coming to a halt due to COVID-19, internships and jobs seem to be a very unstable option at the moment. Photo illustration by Paula Ortiz Cazaubon.

Media Credit: Paula Ortiz Cazaubon / The Beacon

When classes moved online in March, many UP students did not expect that these changes would last months. Some projections show that COVID-19 related quarantines and lockdowns could last through the summer. These circumstances have already affected internships for students and left many feeling anxious and unsure of what their next step is. 

While companies are unsure of how their businesses will look in the next few months, some are making adjustments to keep their interns but others are canceling internships altogether. 

Starting in June, Gaby Hernandez Duran, a junior biology major, was supposed to intern at a program for aspiring doctors with Northwest Permanente, a partner of Kaiser Permanente.  Hernandez was going to work in primary care doing administrative work and later shadow a doctor toward the end of the program.

Hernandez applied in February, and only a few days after she got accepted in the middle of March, the program had been canceled. 

“I think mostly, the feeling has been scrambling and trying to know what I am going to be doing for the summer. Thankfully I live at home and don’t have any financial burdens, like I know a lot of other students have,” Hernandez said. “But I’ve had a lot of anxiety over what I am going to do, like will I even be able to find a job this summer?” 

Many other students are in the same position as Hernandez with their internships being canceled. Others are waiting anxiously to find out if their summer jobs are still intact. 

Business students are required to have at least 40 hours of experience at an internship to graduate. According to Gwynn Klobes, the Pamplin Professional Preparation Program (P4) director, the entire class of 2020 has met these requirements and will graduate on time. Typically, business students complete these hours the summer in between their junior and senior years. However, some junior students are concerned about meeting this requirement in such an uncertain time. 

Klobes said she doesn’t want students to worry and is confident all of the juniors will complete their requirements. She has been sending emails to her students with ways to continue to network and pursue internships. According to Klobes, the internship requirement started during the 2008 recession, and she is confident students can make it through this. 

“Don’t worry, keep doing what you’re doing, which is building relationships,” Klobes said.”I told them this is the perfect time to reach out to alumni that are working at companies and get information from them about their companies and what they are doing … I think the big thing is that businesses want University of Portland students and their skill sets.”

With the world coming to a halt due to COVID-19, internships and jobs seem to be a very unstable option at the moment. Photo illustration by Paula Ortiz Cazaubon.

Hannah Franchetti, a junior marketing major, has a digital merchandising internship with Petsmart in Phoenix, Arizona, for the summer. The internship is still set to begin on June 1 with Petsmart providing housing for interns in apartments in Phoenix. Franchetti is excited that the internship is still happening, but nervous about moving to a new state during the pandemic. 

“I’m excited — I really hope that it happens,” Franchetti said. “If everything is still happening with the coronavirus, moving to a new state and living in a new apartment complex with people I don’t know … It’s a little nerve-wracking because I don’t know where everyone is coming from. But I’m optimistic that everything will be looking better in June.”  

International Education of Students (IES), one of UP’s study abroad partners, canceled all of their internship programs for the summer. There were four UP students, three of them business majors, set to have internships abroad with IES, according to Amy Wruck, a Studies Abroad assistant. 

“It has become difficult for our third-party employer partners to provide quality internships,” IES said in an email to students. “Whereas some study abroad courses may be possible to complete remotely, unfortunately, the hands-on nature of our internship programming does not lend itself easily to virtual platforms, thus making us unable to offer high-quality placements.”

MECOP, another internship program that UP engineers work with, has not suspended its program, according to Kate Rohl, the industry relations manager in the Shiley School of Engineering. Though some have canceled their internships, MECOP is encouraging their 150 companies to not cancel and to adjust to the circumstances. 

Some companies have switched their internships to being remote. Junior mechanical engineering major Brannon Jong was supposed to intern for Pepsi’s supply chain in Vancouver, Washington starting in June.

Pepsi switched the internship to online and is hoping to bring their interns back in person if the situation with COVID-19 gets any better. According to Jong, they have not told him how they are going to proceed with an online internship, but he is confident that Pepsi has the capacity to make it a meaningful experience. 

“I am definitely still excited that it is happening, because I know many other student’s internships got canceled,” Jong said. “But I am still really bummed that I am not getting the person to person experience that is so cool about internships. I really hope that the situation gets better because at the end of the program we are supposed to go to Texas and present to a Pepsi branch there about what we have worked on.”

Amidst the uncertainty, the Career Center wants to be a resource for students struggling with internships. They will continue to send out their bi-weekly internship newsletter and are encouraging students to make appointments with their counselors. 

Fiona O'Brien is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at