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The Future of Internships in a Socially-Distanced World

May 12, 2020 — As restrictions on work and travel continue, many companies have begun to explore what their operations — including internships — will look like as the bulk of their employees continue to telework. Companies typically offering internships to high school, college and graduate students are determining how to handle these essential skill-building experiences remotely.

Maintaining internship programs may be essential for some companies, as interns often provide businesses low-cost labor and the opportunity to groom an individual’s skill set for potential full-time employment with the company.

Two companies – one a small start-up housed in the FMA 5-star partner Howard County Economic Development Authority’s incubator space and the other the sizeable FMA Mission Partner Lockheed Martin – will both provide digital internships this summer to local community college students. Each of the students is enrolled in STEM Core, a program that allows them to accelerate their progress through core mathematics courses with the support of a mentor who helps them navigate community college life.

Hawkeye MedTech Inc., a small healthcare IT startup invested in developing and deploying tools for telemedicine, already has interns remotely testing the next app release of their flagship telemedicine platform, TotalCare. According to Hawkeye CEO Ashok Kapur, making the shift to fully digital internships was a logical step for the company, as the office already split the week between face-to-face and remote work.

Kapur has invested in giving interns a “valuable experience and have them see their contributions make a difference,” by assigning work that aligns with individuals’ interests and preferences as often as possible. The hands-on experience “is very valuable because no matter what coursework [they] do, [students] don’t understand how the telemedicine creatures they hear about in the news work in real life.”

This sentiment has been echoed across the industry: most entry-level positions for computer science, information technology or cyber jobs in the region require work experience in addition to or in place of coursework. Landing one of these positions can be nearly impossible without hands-on experience in the field.

As the pandemic spread, Phebe Ismail, a STEM Core student at the Community College of Baltimore County, thought she would have to wait an entire year before internships would be available again. She was pleasantly surprised when Kapur reached out regarding the remote internship opportunity.

Ismail summed up the concerns about digital internships. “The fear of this online stuff is not understanding what to do, not knowing what to do at all and someone not responding to me,” she said. Fortunately, since starting her internship with Hawkeye MedTech Inc., Ismail has found her work team responsive and well organized as they use Google Docs and text messaging to communicate throughout the week.

Hawkeye internships are divided into two tiers: senior internships, which are typically reserved for graduate students, and junior internships, which Kapur has offered to three STEM Core students. Two weeks in, the junior interns have made a strong impression, contributing valuable input on technical issues in the latest release of TotalCare.

Defense giant Lockheed Martin has also identified a way to engage interns in a completely digital environment this summer and has dedicated one of their competitive spaces to a STEM Core candidate. With interviews taking place in early May, the company hopes to have background checks completed in order for the selected intern to start in June.

Transitioning to digital internships was particularly challenging given the classified nature of much of the company’s work.

“Our intern program provides unique professional experience to the interns and brings in innovative ideas and solutions to some of our most difficult challenges,” noted Sharlea McMurtry, Director, Engineering & Technology, Cyber Innovations. “While COVID-19 has shifted how we’ll continue the program, we are excited to utilize a virtual approach.”

The selected intern will work within Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems, a division of the company that provides applications on more than 460 programs for U.S. military and international customers. Due to the nature of the work, candidates for the internship must be U.S. citizens, pass their background check and have at least one year of coursework towards a STEM-related degree. Though experience with electronic hardware and coding is desired, it is not necessarily a requirement to land the internship.

Duties of the position may include “developing and maintaining code in one of several coding languages” and “[supporting] other activities related to software development to include documentation, configuration management, basic system administration, code reviews and system design.”

“Our Lockheed Martin summer intern program is a critical component of building the next-generation STEM workforce to help meet our customer’s missions,” McMurtry said.

If your company is interested in hosting interns this summer or in the future, the FMA can help you find well-qualified candidates. To learn more, please contact our Education & Workforce Director, Jenn Munt at