The Very Real Benefits Of A Virtual Internship

By Brett Steenbarger

Virtual internships really are amazing things when they are organized the right way.  So much is dependent upon the quality of the work placement.  When we get to know the students well as individuals, we can place them in cultures they want to experience, in organizations that operate within their career interests, and on projects that fit their skills and interests.  The difference between a targeted virtual internship and a generic one is like the difference between a garment tailored to your specifications and one simply pulled off the department store rack.

But of course the placement is only the beginning for a good internship.  During the experience it’s important to have caring professionals reaching out to each of the interns—and each of the worksites—to make sure that things are going well and that the work experience truly is a productive learning experience.  That is why Connect-123 conducts periodic small group discussions and workshops among interns, discussing challenges that students encounter and ways in which they are succeeding in their work.  In the right learning culture, it’s each one teach one:  everyone learns from the experiences of others, everyone is both mentor and student.

In a recent workshop that Sherrine Boseman-Rives and I organized for virtual interns, we asked the interns to take the VIA Character Strengths Survey and bring the results to the session.   It was clear that the group possessed unique combinations of signature strengths that they could leverage in meeting the challenges of new cultures and fresh workplaces.  One of the very real benefits of a virtual internship is the opportunity to discover the best of who we are and connect with others who share those strengths.  During a previous set of classes, I was impressed by the contributions of a particular student and, at the end of the internship, asked if she would be interested in teaching with me.  That was Sherrine, and it turned out that, on the survey, we share four out of six top strengths, including gratitude and spirituality.  In the normal, everyday world, Sherrine and I would never have met:  I work in finance and teach at a medical school and she is an adult learner at Pennsylvania State University.  But through the magic of the virtual medium, we connected and found that, amidst our differences, we had both a lot in common and also uniqueness that we could share.  That’s the beauty of teamwork!

At Connect-123, we have been so impressed with the unique promise of the character strengths assessment that we are adding it to the front end of the internship placement process.  That will enable us to become even better at finding organizations and jobs that speak to the talents and passions of each student.  We will also monitor how strengths are exercised during the internship and how they evolve.  The virtual internship is not just about getting experience for a job and career, though those are great.  The virtual internship, organized the right way and drawing upon the best within us, is a unique tool for student development, personally and professionally.  And we’re also finding it’s a great way to meet new and interesting people!!

Brett Steenbarger

Connect-123's Director of Student Development, Brett N. Steenbarger, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY and a performance psychologist for professionals in the world of finance. He is the author of numerous books on psychology and financial markets and loves connecting with students during their internships and beyond!


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