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Penn Abroad's GRIP placements are among the student internships and research opportunities that have been canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

The coronavirus pandemic has altered plans for many students who had secured internships and programs this summer. Now, students are scrambling to find work due to cancellations or preparing for remote internships.

Penn Abroad announced the cancellation of its Global Research & Internship Program on March 17, giving approximately 150 students about two months to iron out their summer plans. GRIP allows students to participate in one of its pre-approved internships or research placements with guaranteed funding in 25 different countries. Some other unaffiliated internships are now remote, leaving students grateful that they still have an internship but upset about the losing the in-person experience. 

Penn Abroad Senior Associate Director Erica Sebastian said the decision to cancel GRIP was made in response to the growing uncertainty around the world due to the pandemic. She noted that the US Department of State issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory on March 19 to avoid all international travel due to coronavirus.

Before the pandemic, College sophomore Amira Chowdhury was set to work for Stepping Stones International, a non-profit in Mochudi, Botswana where she would revise and create the English and history curriculum for children. The suspension of GRIP funding and the consequent search for new internships now poses a significant burden on her as a first-generation, low-income student, she said.

“It’s been incredibly difficult given all the transitions I’ve been asked to make by Penn — being evicted off campus, having to find a home and food security in less than 32 hours to move off-campus — in between also transitioning to remote classes online,” Chowdhury said. “I, as an individual, have very minimal emotional capacity and labor left in me to have to go through this entire process [of finding an internship] again."

Chowdhury said she is still looking for a summer internship and is considering other job opportunities such as working on a political campaign.

College and Engineering sophomore Akaash Padmanabha was supposed to conduct research at the National University of Singapore on carbon dioxide conversion through the Summer Engineering Research Internship for U.S. Students program. Now, he is searching for other labs and internships not affiliated with Penn to conduct research this summer.

“I’m sad I wasn’t able to make the most of this opportunity, but I also understand the situation is unprecedented,” Padmanabha said. “Everyone’s struggling from students to people in the workforce.”

Executive Director of Career Services Barbara Hewitt said Career Services is only aware of two Penn students whose non-Penn-affiliated summer internships have been canceled. Senior Associate Director of Career Services Claire Klieger added that most employers are still monitoring the situation and exploring options such as remote work and later start dates, rather than canceling internships altogether.

Engineering sophomores Maya Patel and Emily Saperstein found out on March 25 that their software engineering internships at Google would be remote with computers provided by Google.

Patel said she was looking forward to working with her fellow interns and networking with full-time employees in person. Saperstein, who worked as a Google intern in New York City last summer, said the in-person experience allowed her to understand the Google infrastructure and communicate easily with co-workers.

“Getting to know people and other interns is going to be hard,” Saperstein said. “I’m sure there are going to be activities on [online conference call platforms] Zoom and Google Hangouts, but it’s definitely not the same.”

Saperstein and Patel said, however, they are grateful that they still have the opportunity to work for Google this summer.

"It's stressful for students who feel like they finally found an internship and then it's canceled, but it's not the end of the world," Hewitt said. "There are other opportunities out there, and [Career Services] will do everything it can do to help them gear up to start their search again."