What’s it like to be an intern during a pandemic?

Education Intern sitting at a desk facing his computer working.

June 22, 2020

Like most people in the United States, I had to get used to working online. My internship with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego was conducted entirely online. I was lucky enough that it wasn't canceled after schools closed down due to shelter-in-place orders. However, it meant I had to get used to an at-home set-up: having zooms every other day, using online apps for all sorts of work and communication, constantly checking my email for updates, and going to my kitchen to grab snacks whenever I pleased. It’s what I have come to call business as usual.
 
Although everything was online, and I didn’t step into MCASD once throughout my internship, my reflection on this experience is that it was as legitimate as can be--for being online. I still had to clock in, attend meetings, and manage my schedule. Many of my high school classmates were denied this opportunity. An exit internship is a required step to graduation at my high school (or was) [High Tech High]. Most of my classmates had work experience or internships lined up as early as March to begin in May as I did. However, most of our plans, even though made months in advance, were derailed because of COVID-19. Thanks to Mario Mesquita, an Education Manager, and my internship mentor, I was lucky to be one of the few people who were able to translate their internship into an online experience.
 
It was overall a positive and professional experience that wasn’t hard to navigate, but it was surely challenging. Having started my online high school classes before this internship, I felt prepared for the challenge of conducting work digitally. I was already familiar with the caveats of Zoom, google classroom and the digital tools that have become essential for a successful transition from the in-person workplace to the casual I-actually-haven’t-seen-you-in-months workplace. It made me feel lucky: lucky to have the ability to hop on my laptop and access these apps. I found myself grateful to have the time to partake in this internship and to be able to take advantage of the opportunities I searched for.
 
It is easy to forget, especially in the comfort of our homes, that not everyone has an equal advantage during these unprecedented times. Not every student has a laptop, and not every student has the free time to do an internship or pursue an academic or professional interest. We all have different home lives and responsibilities outside of the classroom and/or our usual in-person routines. I find it important to recognize and reflect on our privileges during these trying times and to appreciate what we have.
 
If I were able to go back in time and tell myself anything before I started this internship, it would be to thank my digital media teacher, Lora ChauDavis, for the skills she equipped me with before this professional endeavor. If it wasn’t for taking digital media, where I had to work with Adobe and online programs, I wouldn’t be as prepared as I was for the challenges of this internship: creating a digital catalog, working spreadsheets, utilizing various online graphic-design and organizational resources. With this knowledge in mind, my advice to any arising interns would be to gain familiarity with Adobe Indesign and other Adobe programs before beginning an internship at MCASD, and it definitely wouldn’t hurt to gain a basic fluency in google spreadsheets, or a spreadsheet program, in preparation for this internship. These tools are valuable for both in-person and online work experience, and many businesses and employers value a fluency in these programs or tools.
 
My experience with working with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and my mentor, Mario Mesquita, was a valuable way to partake in my first virtual internship. Months ago, when I discussed the possibility of this my internship with members of the Education Department, I never expected it to go about it the way we did. However, I will be forever appreciative of the exposure and experience I take away from my time spent (online) with the faculty of the museum. It was as legitimate and relevant as any in-person internship could be. 
 
Signing off,
Isaiah Colmenero
 
Photo closeup of Education Intern's face Isaiah C. waiving to the viewer.