Occidental’s summer plans shift amid COVID-19

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Margot Heron/The Occidental

Every summer, Occidental provides financial support for current students wishing to find internships, pursue undergraduate research or conduct research abroad through programs like the John Parke Young Initiative on the Global Political Economy (Young Student Grant), InternLA and the Undergraduate Research Center‘s Summer Research Program (SRP). Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, InternLA and the Young Student Grant have been canceled, and SRP research has been modified to be conducted remotely.

According to Avanti Puri (junior), Bethany Widen (junior) and Isobel Dickson (junior), the summer offers an important time for students to explore opportunities that they might not have time for during the academic school year. Students were informed of these modifications to Occidental’s summer programming via email after spring break, according to all three students.

According to its website, the Young Student Grant program offers grants of up to $3,500 for students to pursue research or participate in internships related to world affairs or the global economy during the summer or winter break, usually internationally. Assistant Director of the Young Student Grant Chamnan Lin said smaller grants of up to $1,000 are available throughout the academic year for students to attend workshops or conferences.

According to Lin, these grants can profoundly impact students’ careers. After President Veitch’s March 12 email announcement regarding moving to all-remote learning for the remainder of the semester, Lin said the program decided international travel would not be feasible this summer out of concern for students’ health and safety.

“We know our applicants are disappointed in the decision to cancel the summer grant,” Lin said via email. “The grant has never been cancelled or postponed before. This is an unprecedented circumstance and a decision that was made at the very top for the safety of all students involved.”

InternLA is a summer-only program that places Occidental students as interns in participating organizations — such as the Los Angeles Zoo, the Grammy Museum or City of Hope — for 10 weeks, according to the InternLA website. The Hameetman Career Center (HCC) sent an email April 7 informing students that the program would be canceled amidst coronavirus concerns and public health recommendations. Assistant Director of Career Education and Advising Claudia Aguilar had no additional comments.

Puri said the news of InternLA’s cancellation was frustrating since she had been looking forward to the program since her first year. Puri was planning on exploring her interests in pre-law through an internship with an organization like Planned Parenthood in the San Gabriel Valley or Bet Tzedek Legal Services.

“I’m very interested in going into the legal field,” Puri said. “This [InternLA] is a great stepping stone, especially because a lot of legal internships aren’t available to undergraduate students.”

Puri said students were initially supposed to hear back regarding their summer placements around April 2. Puri said she thinks it would be beneficial for the HCC to figure out a way to facilitate InternLA remotely this summer.

“A lot of students were really looking forward to these opportunities this summer, and actual funding from the school,” Puri said. “Not really having a backup is difficult right now, just because of InternLA, you don’t know what sorts of organizations are hiring, that sort of thing. So I kind of wish Oxy had initiated some sort of process with InternLA organizations to see if any of those opportunities could be done remotely.”

Prior to the April 7 email, Puri said that the HCC had not provided any information regarding InternLA. She reached out to the HCC by telephone to discuss searching for a summer internship and asked about the plans for InternLA this summer. According to Puri, the HCC said that they would send an email once they had reached their final decision.

“I personally wish we’d been kept in the loop a little bit more,” Puri said. “Had I known more in advance that this [InternLA] might have been cancelled, I might have personally reached out to the InternLA organizations on my own to see if there were opportunities outside of InternLA that I could pursue, whether remote or not.”

For SRP, most students were notified about whether their projects were accepted by March 10. Associate Dean of Curricular Affairs for Undergraduate Research Ron Buckmire sent an email out to students April 13 with modified plans for remote research for eight weeks starting on June 8, instead of the intended 10 weeks. According to the email, the research award will be reduced to $3,600 from the original $4,500 grant. This reduction is due to  the program being shortened from 10 weeks to eight, with students earning $450 per week. The email also said only projects that faculty advisors approved for remote completion will continue.

Widen, a history major, said she imagines that students with lab research will have a harder time getting approved since they do not have the equipment necessary to do their projects remotely.

“I think the biggest thing that was difficult was [that] we were unsure of what was going to happen for quite a long time,” Widen said. “It was hard to think about summer plans with everything so up in the air. Of course, I think that’s the case with so many things with coronavirus right now.”

Widen said her research requires reading primary documents online, so moving SRP completely online this summer should not affect her final project. Similarly, economics professor Andrew Jalil, an SRP advisor, said the project he is overseeing should not be greatly affected by the changes.

“I am grateful that Oxy has developed a strategy that allows viable projects to go forward while protecting the campus community,” Jalil said via email.

Religious studies major Dickson said she is nervous about completing her project without having access to a physical library or programs like Link+. Widen and Dickson agreed they will miss the communal aspect of having in-person URC summer research.

“I’m worried about not being able to do good research when I don’t actually have research materials. From what I’ve heard, a lot of URC is so much about going to the talks that are organized, doing group work with other people who are doing their own projects and all of that communal aspect of it seems really important,” Dickson said. “I’m sure we’ll be on BlueJeans and whatever, but it’s not going to be the same.”

Dickson and Widen said they are both grateful for the opportunity to continue their research remotely with the help of their faculty advisors. According to Dickson, the URC has been successful at modifying the program given the current circumstances.

“I think the URC has done a really good job in trying to accommodate as many students as it can during this really difficult time,” Widen said. “I’m thankful that those of us who are approved to do research still can do so.”