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Cam Hinman, a freshman and full-time intern for COUNTRY Financial.

Cam Hinman is a freshman and full-time intern for COUNTRY Financial.

Redbirds gain professional experience through virtual internships

The opportunity to receive hands-on internship experience while in college is invaluable to professional success. Each year, students strive to fill their summer free time with internships. While the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in restrictions on many physical workplaces, some Illinois State students are still experiencing internships from home.

Cam Hinman, Kathryn Hagans, Miranda Kobal, and Brooke McKinney are four Redbirds who have spent their summers adapting to virtual internships. The students have different interests and goals, but they each realize the importance of sharpening their professional skills while being flexible and open-minded to change.

“Interning from home virtually is preparing me for online work that could become more common in the future,” said Hinman, a freshman from Normal majoring in business administration and integrated marketing. Hinman is a full-time intern for COUNTRY Financial and works on its enterprise innovation team, which analyzes current trends in the insurance industry and applies effective strategies to COUNTRY’s operations. 

Hungry to add professional experience to his resume, Hinman began to search for internships during his senior year at Normal Community High School. Despite being eager, he wasn’t willing to settle for just any internship.

“I started researching companies that are unique and have a very innovative approach to business,” said Hinman. “When I saw the internship description for COUNTRY Financial on their website, I knew it was a perfect fit for me. I’m so happy I was able to secure the role.”

Hagans is another student whose online search led them to a perfect fit. She searched for “St. Louis summer marketing internships” on LinkedIn and found an ideal position with CenturyLink as a marketing analysis intern.

“I honestly have really been enjoying working from home,” said Hagans, a senior from Worden majoring in marketing. “My parents and I set up a mini home office for me, so I wake up and get ready to walk right downstairs for work, which is way better than the hour drive I would’ve had to St. Louis.”

Hinman and Hagans have both frequently utilized Microsoft Teams to communicate and collaborate with their coworkers. Despite the initial learning curve, they both note that virtual collaboration has granted them unique experiences.

“I think I’m actually getting connected to many more colleagues, interns, and managers at CenturyLink virtually than I would have if I were solely working in the St. Louis office,” said Hagans.

While some students secured virtual internships for this summer, others were accustomed to in-person internships before COVID-19. Kobal was heading into her second year as a claims professional intern for Travelers Insurance when social distancing requirements transitioned her to a virtual setting.

“Given the unprecedented circumstances, I find that the virtual internship has gone very smooth,” said Kobal, a junior from Aurora majoring in business administration and risk management. “I’ve learned what it means to be self-reliant, resilient, and patient.”

McKinney is another student whose summer plans changed suddenly. She worked part-time at the Home Depot in Normal for two years and stumbled upon its internship program offered through corporate. She entered the program and was prepared to spend her summer in Atlanta, but instead has enjoyed the program from the comfort of her home. 

“I’m honestly just grateful I still had an internship,” said McKinney, a senior from LeRoy majoring in information systems. McKinney is a software engineer intern working on app development for Home Depot and notes that her experience as a store associate has helped her succeed in her internship.

“Corporate really values the perspectives of their store associates because they bring a different view to the table,” said McKinney. “Associates are the ones using the programs, devices, interacting with the customers, and handling merchandise. We are able to say, ‘Hey, a lot of customers complain about this, why don’t we do this differently?’”

Despite the many changes, companies have done their best to keep the internship experience intact. “My company has tried to replicate the experience as much as possible and is giving us many resources and opportunities to succeed and hopefully get a full-time position afterwards,” said McKinney.

Most importantly, virtual internships have set students up for professional success.

“This internship has taught me the importance of keeping doors open to new opportunities in the future and not being afraid to think outside the box,” said Hinman. “This has given me a new mindset that you must do far more than sit at a desk in order to contribute to your organization.”