If you asked me what I thought my senior year of high school would look like, I would have said cheering on my school’s football team, taking prom pictures with my friends, throwing my cap in the air, and proudly celebrating four years of hard work. Instead, like thousands of students across the country, my senior year was filled with Zoom classes, an isolated learning environment, and was largely devoid of in-person activities, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I had high hopes for this final year, and I began preparing for my future by securing a competitive, paid internship with Municipal Credit Union (MCU) in New York City, as a business analyst. Like many experiences I was looking forward to, this one would also happen virtually.
Although COVID-19 curtailed my education experience, it did not stop me from pursuing a meaningful internship to advance my career. A recent survey suggests that students who enrolled in virtual internships did not have as meaningful of an experience compared to students who completed in-person ones. The survey also highlights that, most often, virtual internship opportunities were unpaid when compared to in-person internships. My experience participating in a virtual, paid internship was vastly different from the data reported. Working virtually and never meeting my colleagues face-to-face was definitely a tough adjustment. Still, I learned valuable lessons that were crucial, as I entered the next phase of my education and forged ahead towards my career goals.
Before I started my virtual internship, I was afraid to speak up and step out of my comfort zone. Being part of a larger team at MCU offered me the skills and real-life experiences to know that my voice, opinions, and ideas were valued and encouraged by my colleagues. My supervisor asked me “What is one thing that our team should work on?” I replied that we could improve on responding to IT tickets in a timely manner. I proposed an idea to submit a ticket to the help desk and email whomever is responsible to resolve the issue, as a way to streamline communication. My team implemented the idea and our internal communications process became more efficient. Additionally, I learned how to problem solve in an online environment, which is likely to become more commonplace. One of my responsibilities was to troubleshoot IT tickets and to ensure I connected people in need with the correct IT technician. This meant that I had to understand how the teams at MCU functioned and who would be best suited to respond to each problem presented. I had to think critically about the problem, communicate clearly and professionally to my team, and devise a clear solution. Having these responsibilities allowed me to grow professionally and understand how to navigate complex tasks. Learning these critical skills in my internship, allowed me to take them back to my classes and apply them to my education. I enrolled in NAF’s entrepreneurship class at my high school, where we were tasked with creating a business, implementing a business plan, and executing a marketing campaign.
I was named vice president of BizClick, our mock business, and used the competencies, lessons, and experiences I gained during my time at MCU to lead my team to a national NAF competition. We competed against students from across the country and I received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase what I learned at the national level. The internship opportunity NAF provided to me had an enormous impact on my education and future career aspirations. I am now on my way to Baruch College in New York City to pursue my degree in real estate, a passion I discovered through all of the connections I made during my virtual internship. I even found a mentor in this popular field after learning to speak up for myself and seek out opportunities that spark my interest.
Virtual internships do not need to be daunting or burdensome. They can be just as meaningful and valuable as in-person internships. I encourage all high school students to strongly consider pursuing internships and to not be discouraged by a virtual offer. My virtual internship gave me the skills and knowledge to succeed, and even offered a few incredible surprises along the way. I look forward to the day that I can connect with my MCU colleagues in person, but I value the time we spent virtually and will carry the lessons I've learned as I take my next steps. While the future can be unpredictable, I feel confident in saying “Yes” to experiences that broaden my horizons and give me a leg up. There is always something valuable to be gained and a chance to grow in ways that you may have never imagined. Don’t be afraid to seize them!
Amy Tochimani is a high school student who will attend Baruch College in New York City.