Remote internship experiences prepare students for the real world

Beavins is currently a remote intern for Dressember, a non-profit working to raise awareness for human trafficking. Photo courtesy of Emma Beavins’ Instagram.

EMMA BEAVINS | OPINION COLUMNIST | ebeavins@butler.edu

Internships, internships, internships.

If there is one thing that Butler University is passionate about, it’s internships. A large bulletin board on the first floor of Jordan flaunts percentages of how much more likely a student will be to get a job if they have one internship, and the percentage skyrockets when a student has two or more.

Butler professors and faculty alike promote internships so much that when I ask my friends from other schools what internships they are getting for sophomore and junior year they look at me blankly and ask, “Why are you thinking about that already?”

Gary Beaulieu, senior director of the career and professional services office, thinks Butler’s reputation positions students to be successful.

“I always find the best thing for students to do is networking, it’s about utilizing alumni,”  Beaulieu said. “Butler’s a pretty well known school, and so we get a lot of opportunities for internships, as well as full time jobs for students.”

While traditional, in-person internships abound in the greater Indianapolis area, the opportunities for students do not stop there. In our increasingly digital world, we have the opportunity to work for companies based in other areas of the country as well. Remote internships are becoming a viable option for students — or at least they should be.

This semester, I have an online internship for a company called Dressember — a non-profit that seeks to raise awareness about the prevalence of human trafficking in the U.S. and abroad. I got involved with Dressember through their annual campaign in which advocates wear a dress every day in December and raise money to fund rescue missions, legal counsel, after care services, etc.

I was excited to secure an editorial internship position as a sophomore — especially because it directly relates to my English major. In some internships, it can be hard to know what kind of role you will actually be filling. With my online internship, the expectations were clearly outlined on the application.

And yet, trying to get academic credit for this internship was like pulling teeth. This was partly due to the fact that the semester was several weeks underway by the time I was selected for the position. But the other part of it revolved around the remote nature of the internship, rather than the merits of the position itself.

After hustling to get all the paperwork filled out and sent over to my supervisor, emailing with three different staff members and meeting with my advisor, I was told days later that after consulting with several faculty members, the department decided that my internship could not count for credit.

This internship that has direct, applicable skills to my major was deemed unfit to receive a measly two credit hours. What makes my internship valuable to Dressember was not good enough for Butler.

Madeline Kronenberg, communications manager at Dressember’s Los Angeles headquarters, said the editorial internship position is the only one at Dressember that is not an in-person, traditional internship.

“The reason we started our editorial is because we wanted to start a blog with different voices,” Kronenberg said. “We opened it up to anyone in the U.S. and got people from all over the place to join us from all walks of life, and now we have had about 70 people go through the internship program.”

Perhaps the greatest benefit of a remote internship program is its ability to incorporate a multitude of perspectives that surpass geographic location.

After my pride was a little hurt by trying to jump through the appropriate hoops and failing, I felt alone. I had not heard of any other Butler students doing remote internships, and yet Beaulieu said in his 15 years at Butler, he has seen hundreds of students do remote internships.

“We see opportunities that are project based, so you might be helping an organization build a website or helping them build their social media capital,” Beaulieu said. “We’ve also done a lot of work with interns working remotely for just like what you’re doing, writing stories, writing copy, editing.”

If hundreds of students have completed online internships, why are these not talked about?

Beaulieu and Kronenberg alike believe remote internships are part of a shift in the environment of the workplace.

“So many companies are moving from this typical nine to five model where you go to an office and sit in on actual team meetings, but with technology these days we have the opportunity to Skype in and Facetime in and use all these tools that are available to us,” Kronenberg said.

Despite support from many people, remote internships are not entirely accepted on Butler’s campus. The department said allowing students to work from their dorm room was supposedly a violation of Butler’s policies and a break in precedent. This attitude seems shortsighted.

While I can see why Butler wants its students to make connections in the community, it is time that our policies reflect our reality. Because our world is hyper-connected, interns and full-time employees alike have an opportunity to be mobile, to travel and to bend a traditional job to fit a particular lifestyle or schedule.

Just like taking an online class or watching video lectures outside of class time, remote internships require a high level of motivation, discipline and time management.

Scott Bridge, professor of entertainment media and journalism and internship director for the College of Communication, said that while remote internships can be valuable, traditional internships provide a greater opportunity for mentorship.

“There is definitely value in face to face [communication], especially when it comes to mentoring,” Bridge said. “And so we prefer it, but it is not a requirement.”

This is the reason why Bridge believes that students should try to do as many internships as possible — both from a mentorship standpoint and for students to determine in what kind of workplace setting they click.

“You’re learning what kind of workplace culture is best for [you],” Bridge said. “Even in the office, some students like cubicles, some students absolutely hate cubicles and they want to be in a great big room, and that’s the great thing about doing more than one internship is you can you can find that out for yourself which one works best for me.”

While the College of Communication does not often have to deal with the question of remote internships, Bridge said they are willing to accommodate.

“In CCom we really pride ourselves on being flexible and so we don’t want to just have a one size fits all policy,” Bridge said. “We recognize students are different, opportunities are different, our majors are very different, so what may work for one student might not be ideal for another.”

In pursuing what might be my ideal internship, I have become more confused about Butler’s policies. While some faculty members are pro remote internships, some are very clearly against them. I can only imagine that in the future the opportunities for remote internships will grow, so it is time that the university have a general consensus on the matter.

All I am suggesting is that if Butler is going to be so gung-ho for internships, make them a requirement for most majors and encourage students to be ambitious, they should be more willing to view remote internships as a viable experience for a student.

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