Local High School Students Complete First-Ever Remote Summer Internship Program at Columbia

After planning to spend the summer training for his upcoming races, Ke Han Yu, track and cross-country runner and rising senior at the High School of Economics and Finance, never imagined that the Covid-19 pandemic would transform his summer to learning how to use Unifier, a project lifecycle management solution for capital planning, project delivery, and facilities and real estate management, remotely. 

August 28, 2020

The summer internship program for local high school students with Columbia University Facilities and Operations looked a little different this summer. The COVID-19 global pandemic restricted access to campus facilities, causing employees to work remotely. But even with on-site work limited, CUFO worked with the Department of Education to on-board six high school students for the first-ever virtual summer internship program. The unexpected shift demanded just as much creativity out of the coordinators as it did the students to get the program up and running during a citywide lockdown. During the six-week program, students gained valuable career development and practical work experience before partaking in the program’s graduation ceremony from the safety of their homes, including how to collaboratively work on a team virtually. 

“Transitioning and facilitating a virtual internship experience was a major team effort,” said Terri Caldes, Director of CUFO Human Resources and coordinator of the CUFO summer high school internship program. “We are so grateful to everyone who helped support the program and kept it going strong during this time.” 

As part of his internship, Ke Han supported CUFO’s Office of Procurement learning about the rigors it takes for vendors to work with Facilities and Operations. The other interns included (with the department they worked for in parentheses): Titianna Cepeda (Code Compliance), Yareli Flores (Environmental Stewardship), Nissah Harper (Construction Business Initiatives), John Rodriguez (IT), and Renny Rodriguez (HR), with interests in pursuing careers ranging from business management, international marketing, economics, visual and production design. All of this summer’s program interns live in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. 

“In the beginning, I really did not know what I was getting myself into but I am happy I did this internship because I learned a lot including how to create systems to complete projects and met new people,” says Nissah Harper, rising senior at the High School of Fashion Industries majoring in visual merchandising and communications design. Nissah worked with Construction Business Initiatives, supporting the CU Grow Vendor Development Program in preparing for the program’s second virtual procurement event, creating event invitations, and learning how to use Qualtrics to create new systems and manage event registration. 

At the closing ceremony, interns gathered virtually with their supervisors and other supporters to present their learnings and experiences over the summer, highlighting that this has been the most unique working experience they’ve had. The virtual programming inadvertently encouraged the students to think more independently and figure out ways to manage work and life balance, an experience they wouldn’t have fully grasped if working on campus. Renny Rodriguez, rising senior at the Academy for Careers in Television and Film learned this first-hand, noting, “I had to work from home which means being in a loud environment with a lot of distractions and moving room to room, but I learned ways around it and how to deal with it.”