The Invisible Intern

By Nancy Ramsey

Mar 2, 2011 11:14am

ABC News on Campus reporter Meg Wagner blogs:  Last spring, Dora Kwarko interned for a company in India. But the job didn’t require her to get a passport, endure an international flight or relocate to a foreign country. She completed the internship virtually from her dorm room in New York City. “It was amazing,” said Kwarko, a senior at Columbia University. “I took six classes at my university and completed the internship in my spare time.” As a microfinance intern for Development Foundation Worldwide, a non-profit consulting agency, Kwarko did online research and wrote statements for the company while communicating with her supervisor in India via e-mail and Skype. Kwarko is not alone. More students are turning to virtual internships to gain experience. Instead of reporting to an office, virtual interns work remotely and on their own schedules. Opportunities are available in a range of fields, from graphic design to marketing.  According to Urbaninterns.com, a website that connects potential interns to employers, up to 40% of internships listed on their site are virtual. “The idea is still very new, but it’s growing,” said Syeda Lewis, assistant director of Columbia’s experiential education and student enterprises. “Just a couple of years ago this type of thing was unheard of, and now we have a lot of students and employers interested.” Columbia University began a virtual internship program last year. The program helps match students with employers and offers support in the form of meetings and counseling while the students complete their internships. “There’s not a whole lot of difference between virtual and traditional internships,” Lewis said. “Honestly, virtual internships may have the advantage because there’s no administrative work involved – no filing, no answering phones. The students have much more real responsibility.” Talan Torriero, a virtual intern and online student at the University of San Francisco, recently developed cyberinterns.com, an online listing of virtual internships. The site streamlines the internship search, he said, because employers pay to post their openings, and students browse the positions, all on one site. “It was an untapped market, so I jumped on the chance to create this site,” Torriero, 24, said. “More and more people are turning to virtual internships, so this site can be very useful.” He attributes the increase in virtual internship positions to the economy. Businesses needed interns during the recession, but didn’t have the budget or work space to bring them into an office. “You’re doing the same exact work you would do in an office setting, you just get to do it with flexibility,” he said. Students interested in virtual internships should work with their college advisers, Torriero said. Many schools will offer the same academic credit to virtual interns that they would to traditional interns. But he offers a warning for students considering this option: “You have to be very disciplined to do this. When you’re in an office you have this mindset that you’re at work and you have to get work done. When you’re working from home, it’s a lot easier to be distracted.”    

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