I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education, covering innovation in and around academe. As the Covid-19 crisis continues, here’s what I’m thinking about this week.

Internships are going virtual, but apparently not enough of them.

It’s hard to get a good read on how many college students have had their spring and summer internships disappear on them amid the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve seen estimates all over the map, and even when companies say they haven’t outright canceled their internships, they are often scaling back on the number of students they’re taking.

What fascinates me are the responses to those lost opportunities.

Employers themselves and new facilitators are stepping up to create alternative virtual internships, in some cases working closely with colleges to ensure academic credit. That much is not a surprise to me. Since I began exploring the advantages of virtual micro-internships pre-pandemic, I’ve seen a proliferation of companies that coordinate with colleges to develop work-based projects designed to be integrated into, or complement, coursework. Several of these companies, like Riipen, CapSource, and Parker Dewey, are well positioned to shift to serving students, and that’s what they’re doing now.

Even more interesting to me is the creativity and simplicity behind a free, student-run effort developed by undergraduates at Brown University called Intern From Home. Basically it’s a digital platform where companies (mostly start-ups) post internship opportunities, and students submit simple applications, listing their qualifications via Google Docs.

The platform is the brainchild of Chuck Isgar, Megan Kasselberg, and David Lu, who created the site in a matter of hours as they were leaving campus midsemester and hearing about their friends’ losing spring internships. It’s not slick, but through word of mouth, the site has drawn postings from more than 100 companies, attracted signups from more than 1,200 students, and resulted in more than 150 placements.

The founders are serious about using the site to create opportunities for students, and they vet listings with employers before posting them. “We want them to have a really clear plan for the interns,” Isgar told me. “We’re not a gig-economy platform.”

While this began as a project for Brown students this spring, it has morphed into a broader platform for summer and fall internships, and the site has drawn students from nearly 200 other colleges, and Isgar hopes more students sign up, he said. “We want to share these opportunities.”

The spirit behind the idea is admirable, and it may also lead to new opportunities. As companies have looked through students’ applications, some have decided to offer more internships than originally planned.

How many employers recognize the value of virtual internships? Some do, sure. This week I spoke with Tan Moorthy, executive vice president of Infosys and its global head of education, about its decision to convert more than 200 face-to-face internships into virtual ones. Instead of hosting interns in India, Infosys created a digital platform that it will use for regular communication. It also developed new assessments for evaluating interns’ work and new guidelines for mentors to offer consistent feedback.

Even after the pandemic, when in-person internships become possible again, Moorthy said he expects the company will keep elements of this virtual experience to help prepare students for the work force. “Working virtually is going to be more of the norm than the exception,” he said, so virtual work skills will be useful. Other companies may not have Infosys’s resources, but that’s a lesson they might want to remember.

From my conversations with internship companies, as well career-services folks at colleges, it seems there are still plenty of students who’d happily embrace a virtual internship this summer, if only they knew where to find one — and more companies were prepared to offer them. The University Innovation Alliance, for example, has received a small grant to help pay students’ internship wages, with pledges of more funding to come. But it hasn’t found employers willing to match the offers.

As for Isgar, a rising senior, it turns out he may sign up for Intern From Home himself. This summer he was planning to be in Los Angeles interning with a private-equity firm. Last week he learned that position was canceled.

Quote of the week.

“A bit of a bridge too far.”

— Anthony S. Fauci

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, responding to a question at a U.S. Senate hearing on Tuesday, on expectations that a vaccine or treatment could make it safe for students to return to schools and colleges this fall.

The post-World War II GI Bill is not a good enough model for today.

Several readers chastised me after last week’s newsletter, in which I shared thoughts about reviving the ethos of the federal program that helped democratize higher education after World War II. While it’s true that the GI Bill opened up educational opportunities for a large segment of the population, many colleges refused to admit black veterans then, readers noted, and that discrimination deepened economic and social disparities by race. That’s a history I should have noted.

Higher education’s postwar experience had come up in a virtual forum I was hosting on innovation in the pandemic era, when Catharine (Cappy) Bond Hill of Ithaka S+R argued for an all-out push to help more people attend college. In a follow-up with me, Hill said she wished she, too, had noted the failures of the GI Bill during the forum. “An equitably implemented GI Bill would have significantly contributed to a fairer and stronger economy over many decades,” said Hill, an economist. Today, we need to remember that even before the pandemic, there were troubling disparities in educational opportunity by income and race, she said. “With the crisis, those inequities will get increasingly worse, unless we have some significant actions on the part of the government and higher education to counter the effects of the recession: a GI Bill without the racism.”

Please join me for a virtual forum on Thursday on technology and college leadership.

Who makes decisions on colleges’ technology policies? Before the pandemic, that may not have been a concern to very many. But the pivot to remote teaching and operations this spring, plus uncertainties over what colleges will do this fall, has highlighted the role of technology as an institutional backbone.

In this interactive forum, we’ll discuss strategies to best position technology offices to ensure students’ and professors’ access to tools and resources. I’ll be talking to experienced chief information officers who play a central role in policy making, along with a university president who believes technology leaders belong in inner leadership circles.

We’ll be tackling those sorts of institutional-leadership topics and taking your questions on Thursday, May 14, at 2 p.m. Eastern, with: Celeste Schwartz, vice president for information technology and chief digital officer at Montgomery County Community College; Daniele Struppa, president of Chapman University; and Sue Workman, vice president for university technology and CIO at Case Western Reserve University.

Sign up here to view the program live, or watch later on demand.

Final Thoughts

No musical delights this week, nor references to academic papers featuring crayon graphs by the author’s 7-year-old triplets. Instead, as Covid-19 conspiracy theories and pseudoscience begin to flood the internet, I offer a plain-language, common-sense, research-based resource: Covid Explained. Developed by a team of professors, the site offers answers to basic questions (Are some age groups more affected than others? Yes. Should I drink bleach? No.) in language that is direct, with enough depth to help you understand the complexities and, yes, even a little of the science.

I wish I didn’t have to say the rest, but as the good doctor has told us, when it comes to timetables, “the virus decides.” So I hope you’re keeping safe, sane, and humane — and to the degree possible, #StayAtHome.

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at goldie@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, or sign up to receive your own copy, you can do so here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.

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