Students didn’t let COVID-19 get in the way of a summer learning experience, as many companies switched to virtual internship and fellowship programs that allowed participants to navigate the world of Zoom from their homes.
Elana Kopelman, a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, was looking forward to her second summer in Israel. She had applied to the Tamid Group Fellowship in November.
“At UPenn, the Tamid club focuses on Israeli start-up education and pro bono consulting,” Kopelman said. “In the club, you can apply to the fellowship in Israel, where they will match you with an Israeli startup.”
While the fellowship could not take place in Israel, Tamid pushed forward virtually.
“I am working for an Israeli AI-based digital marketing company,” she said. “Everything is over Zoom, which has been difficult because of the time difference.”
Kopelman made her own schedule due to the program’s mobile aspect.
“I was able to be on campus for a month during the summer, since I didn’t have to be bound to an office,” she said. “I was also taking classes at the same time, so I was able to balance both demands.”
While Kopelman missed “the networking aspect of meeting people from other schools,” she still was able to form relationships with others in the program.
Kopelman’s former high school classmate Jon Cohen also participated in a virtual fellowship program.
The Jewish Changemakers Fellowship is a three-week program, created as a response to quarantine, explained Cohen, who attends the University of Michigan.
“Each week was broken up into chapters, the story of self, us and now,” he said. “More specifically, personal and professional life, the global Jewish community and service and advocacy.”
Each weekday, Jewish Changemakers hosted guest speakers to engage with the 300-plus fellows through Zoom. “They really did a good job; the chat box was always blowing up with dialogue,” he said.
“After the lecture, we would switch to breakout rooms to debrief the contents of the speaker,” Cohen said. “I would also have a Philly cohort meeting biweekly with 30 fellows from the area.”
While Cohen would have enjoyed meeting in person, he said the program’s virtual nature vital to its success.
“The fellowship had to be remote because it involved national and international Jews,” Cohen said. “In one Zoom, we interacted with people who had been in different Jewish communities around the world; one speaker had even worked at the JCC in Krakow, Poland.”
Similarly, Cara Suplee, who participated in the JEVS Human Services Ash Internship Program, said Zoom proved surprisingly beneficial.
“Due to the virtual nature of the program, they were able to get certain speakers that probably would not have been able to come otherwise,” she said.
Suplee, who is entering her senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, interned for the communications department at JEVS, where she analyzed data and wrote articles.
The program “was very catered toward interns,” Suplee said. “On Mondays, all of the interns would meet together, where they had speakers set up for us. These lecturers included career strategists, grad school admissions and Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League.”
Participants of the Ash Program also mentored members of the Lasko Program, designed for high school students.
While Suplee recalled the experience fondly, she noted that “the social aspect of the program definitely would have been heightened had we been in person.”
“It was disappointing that I wasn’t able to meet and work with my coworkers in the office,” said Nicole Zibelman, who interned for the marketing department at Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
The University of Maryland rising senior wrote blogs for the Jewish Federation website and learned how to use marketing software to create ad campaigns and track social media engagement and website traffic.
While Zibelman said she missed out on the professional environment that she would have gotten pre-pandemic, she is appreciative of her supervisors for the valuable learning experience.
“I was grateful to have an internship in the first place where I was able to apply my journalism skills, writing and then learn new skills as well in marketing, social media and analytics,” she said. “Overall, it was a really positive experience.” l