Matthew Heilman ’23 planned to spend the summer working in a Tanzanian hospital as a medical intern, researching the educational histories of its clinical officers. Instead, the International Development Studies minor is interning remotely from his home in Indianapolis for an all-female soccer club in Cape Town, South Africa, that works with girls from underprivileged or high-risk areas.
The club, Badgers Academy, uses soccer as a way to provide mentorship, support networks, and educational programs. Along with two other interns based in southern Georgia and Toronto, Heilman is designing single-day workshops that address topics ranging from reproductive and sexual health and to self-confidence and leadership skills.
“The goal is to help them become not only better soccer players, but more well-rounded young women equipped to go out into the world,” said Heilman, a neuroscience and behavior major who is also minoring in gender studies. “While I won’t be able to execute the project in person, my end goal is to hand in a final product that is detailed enough for those on the ground to implement when the coronavirus pandemic is over.”
Heilman is one of a number of University of Notre Dame students taking part this summer in a new virtual internship program offered by the Kellogg Institute for International Studies that provides critical on-the-job experience and learning outside the classroom. The program offers undergraduates the opportunity to gain international work experience at a time when overseas travel is largely off-limits to students due to COVID-19.
Holly Rivers, associate director of the Kellogg Institute, said the program gives students the chance to gain real-world experience in development at a time when few on-the-ground opportunities are available.
“At Kellogg, we’re trying to be creative and innovative and meet the needs of our students in whatever environment we have before us,” she said. “Working remotely may not be the same as being abroad, but I absolutely believe that the skills they gain and the professional contacts they make will be relevant for them in the future.”
She noted that the limitations posed by the coronavirus mimic challenges they’ll face in their careers: “If you work in development, you’re always dealing with situations that are less than ideal. You’re always dealing with changing circumstances and you have to be flexible and adapt to that environment. If you can do that, you can do anything.”
The internships are being offered through Kaya Responsible Travel and include opportunities in South Africa, Morocco, Vietnam, and Ecuador.
Each intern has assignments and checks in with an in-country supervisor on a regular basis. Because the students are working remotely, “they’re basically having to discipline themselves, take initiative and figure out time management skills, and work with people who speak English as a second language to figure out how to get this work done,” Rivers said, adding that Kellogg hopes to expand the program next year.
The interns are also developing skills for a future that may look far different than the pre-COVID era.
“A lot of businesses are going the virtual route and may end up doing this in some form indefinitely,” said Rachel Thiel, coordinator for undergraduate student programming. “That means learning how to work with people across different time zones and cultural landscapes is important.”
Architecture major Miranda Cuozzo ’23 is interning with Design for Development, an organization based in Cape Town that uses graphic design to promote human rights and help local communities. She said connecting with her coworkers can be a challenge due to the seven-hour time difference, but she’s learned to set up meetings early and minimize confusion by communicating her questions and ideas clearly in emails and video calls.
Cuozzo said she’s been surprised at how much she’s learned about South Africa from half a world away.
“While I had some doubts regarding how much I would be able to be ‘present’ in a new cultural context while not being physically present, this experience has really proven that people are the most important aspect of any new place,” she said.
Heilman noted that he’s quickly learned to manage project- rather than deadline-based work, use different methods of communication, and how to build a workplace culture in an online setting.
“I wouldn’t have learned all of this had I done the internship in person,” he said. “While being there in person obviously would have been ideal, this remote internship has still taught me valuable skills within a slightly different, yet in a way just as meaningful, context.”
Learn more about Kellogg’s virtual interns here.