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Spelman College Adapts to Pandemic with Virtual Internships Share a Spelman College Press Release


Jazmyn Burton
(404) 798-5212
Twitter: @SpelmanMedia

Spelman College COVID-19 Virtual Internships

ATLANTA (February 15, 2021) -- While many students across the country saw their hopes of completing internships dashed by the coronavirus pandemic, Spelman College found a creative way to combat the problem. The College’s Office of Career Planning and Development and several academic departments turned to virtual internships.

“The pandemic pushed a lot of people out of the status quo, so more organizations are going virtual,” said Harold Bell, director of the Office of Career Planning and Development. “We realized quickly that we would have to change our paradigm. And while some students struggled at first, they adapted and thrived in the new environment.”

According to Bell, Spelman students have completed virtual internships with Coca Cola in Atlanta, JP Morgan in New York City and various technology firms on the West Coast.

“The companies have been very accommodating. One firm even sent a student a desktop computer and all the equipment she would need to succeed in the internship,” he said.

When students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors saw their summer opportunities disappear because of the pandemic, the Office of Research, Innovation, and Collaboration created workshops so students could continue working with faculty on research projects. Also, many independent research projects like the Data Science Summer Research Program spearheaded by Tiffany Oliver, Ph.D., associate professor biology, shifted to virtual, Taylor said.

“The ORICeLearn Professional Development Series and ORICeLearn Engagers offered more than 30 workshops focused on a combination of research and professional development,” explained Brandi Taylor, Undergraduate Research and Training programs manager.

Training programs such as NIH RISE, LINKS and NSF LSAMP hosted 20 students each for virtual summer internships, Taylor said. Also, many independent research projects have also shifted to virtual, she said.

Virtual Internships in the Arts

Virtual internships are a relatively new concept for students in the arts, said Cheryl Finley, Ph.D., director of the AUC Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective.

“We promised students that we would place them in eight-week internships over the summer, and we had to find a creative way to do that,” she said.

Dr. Finley’s team placed 17 students in virtual internships across the country. Students completed research projects with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Smarthistory; the online public history platform, Galerie Lelong in New York; the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas; and the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

Jordan Dantzler, a senior Art major and Curatorial Studies minor at Spelman, interned at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for eight weeks over the summer. During her virtual assignment, Dantzler, a South Carolina native, helped choose artists for the museum’s California acquisitions by creating research dossiers and conducting interviews.

“I met with the curator, Nancy Lim, every day on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but it was still a pretty independent internship,” Dantzler explained. “I met a lot of influential people within different departments of the museum and was able to network with folks who can help my career.”

Besides learning about new artists, Dantzler was able to attend meetings that are usually not open to interns.

“This experience was invaluable. I’m very thankful for the internship and the ability of the department to adapt to a difficult situation,” Dantzler said.

Dr. Finley said administrators have also learned a lot from the virtual internships.

“We wanted to make sure students had access to mentorship, which is made difficult in a virtual environment,” Dr. Finley added. “We realized that it’s important to have students embark on virtual internships in a cohort to rely upon, ask questions and go through research together even if their research projects are different.”

In addition, Dr. Finley and AUC Art Collective program manager Rachel Brown created a six-week series on professional practice and development that overlapped the virtual internships. The series featured 16 guest speakers from around the globe, including Koyo Kouoh, director of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa; Touria El Glaoui, founding director of a the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which takes place in New York, London, Paris and Marrakech; and Christopher Bedford the director of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

“We wanted student interns to have access to mentors and colleagues,” Dr. Finley said. “And, the six-week series provided a platform in which they could begin building professional networks.”

Tempe Stewart, a junior Art History major, completed a virtual internship with the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. Stewart helped plan an exhibit for choreographer Blondell Cummings to be held in 2021.

“I was supposed to go out to Los Angeles but then COVID-19 hit and I thought I had lost the opportunity completely,” Stewart said. “When the virtual internship started, I was worried that I would have a disappointing experience. But, my supervisor, Kristin Juarez, made me feel like I was there every day. She made me feel like what I was doing was important and influential. She went out of her way to make my internship meaningful.”

Adjusting to a New Normal 

According to Bell, lockdowns and school closures did not cause a shortage of opportunities. Since the beginning of the pandemic, both companies and grad schools have recalibrated and adjusted to the virtual paradigm. So much so, that opportunities for jobs and internships have increased exponentially, said Bell.

Between March and December 2020, Spelman students had access to more than 1,900 virtual sessions hosted by both employers and grad schools.

“Much of this activity spiked during the fall semester after both employers and grad schools had an opportunity to regroup, rethink, reload, and redeploy; coupled with the flashpoint of the George Floyd incident, which placed acquisition of diverse talent in both industry and higher education front and center,” Bell said.

The fall 2020 career fair reached its highest employer participation rate to date at 400 employers. Similarly, three grad school fairs hosted virtually in the fall attracted approximately 300 graduate schools.

“In one semester we engaged 700 recruiters, we typically see that level of engagement over a year,” said Bell. “The resilience of the Spelman reputation was undaunted by the fright of a global pandemic, and rose above adversity to solidify itself as the shining beacon it is even in the midst of the worst of times.”

About Spelman College
Founded in 1881, Spelman College is a leading liberal arts college widely recognized as the global leader in the education of women of African descent. Located in Atlanta, the College’s picturesque campus is home to 2,100 students. Spelman is the country's leading producer of Black women who complete Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The College’s status is confirmed by U.S. News & World Report, which ranked Spelman No. 54 among all liberal arts colleges, No. 19 for undergraduate teaching, No. 4 for social mobility among liberal arts colleges, and No. 1 for the 14th year among historically Black colleges and universities. The Wall Street Journal ranked the College No. 3, nationally, in terms of student satisfaction. Recent initiatives include a designation by the Department of Defense as a Center of Excellence for Minority Women in STEM, a Gender and Sexuality Studies Institute, the first endowed queer studies chair at an HBCU, and a program to increase the number of Black women Ph.D.s in economics. New majors have been added, including documentary filmmaking and photography, and partnerships have been established with MIT’s Media Lab, the Broad Institute and the Army Research Lab for artificial intelligence and machine learning. Outstanding alumnae include Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, Starbucks Group President and COO Rosalind Brewer, political leader Stacey Abrams, former Acting Surgeon General and Spelman’s first alumna president Audrey Forbes Manley, actress and producer Latanya Richardson Jackson, global bioinformatics geneticist Janina Jeff and authors Pearl Cleage and Tayari Jones. For more information, visit



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