Students react as COVID-19 puts professional experience programs on hold


Daily file photo by Owen Stidman

Fisk Hall, home to the Medill School of Journalism, at 1845 Sheridan Rd. Both Medill and SESP chose to cancel professional experience programs for Spring Quarter.

Megan Munce and Vivian Xia

Medill junior Emily Cerf planned to spend Spring Quarter in San Francisco working at Yelp for her Journalism Residency.

However, as the outbreak of COVID-19 throughout the United States started shutting down parts of the economy, Cerf said she started to see news trickle in about Yelp firing and furloughing thousands of their employees — and began to have suspicions about her own job.

Her suspicions wouldn’t be confirmed until March 12. That’s when both the Medill School of Journalism and SESP sent out emails informing students that all JRs and junior year practicums — quarter-long professional experience programs required for the completion of each school’s majors — would be canceled for the spring.

For students scheduled for a JR this spring, Medill’s requirement for professional experience and internships will be waived. SESP students whose senior year schedules don’t have room for the practicum may take four courses to make up the experience.

Now, Cerf and other students have had to change their quarter plans.

Medill junior Kevin Sweeney said he started his JR at Sports Illustrated early by covering college basketball from campus.

Sweeney said he met with his JR advisor on March 9 and was told he might have to work remotely for the beginning of his JR due to New York City’s early outbreak. Three days later, he received the email that it would be canceled altogether.

“I remember getting the email, and reading it, and reading it again, and kind of just being stunned,” Sweeney said. “I’m kind of someone who needs certainty. I’m a planner, I’m a scheduler… so it was really tough for like an hour. Then I texted a friend, we met up and sat in Norris for an hour and chatted and talked through everything, and that calmed me down a little bit.”

Cerf also found having her plans changed upsetting. Cerf originally planned to graduate next winter with a second major in Legal Studies and the Segal Design Certificate. However, due to a combination of many design classes being either closed or difficult to take remotely, she said she now won’t be earning the certificate or graduating early.

“It was kind of upsetting, I guess, to see the plan that I’ve been working towards since the beginning of college to be so suddenly disrupted,” she said. “But at the same time, I guess I’m just trying to see it from the positive side.”

Due to her additional quarter of classes, Cerf said she now plans to pursue a minor in Spanish, which she previously wouldn’t have been able to do.

Other students are also trying to remain positive. Throughout SESP junior Charlotte Masters’ three years at Northwestern, she said being involved with Camp Kesem — a summer camp for children whose families are affected by cancer — has been her “greatest passion.” To pursue that passion, Masters planned to intern this spring at Pediatric Development Center at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

“I’ve always loved working with kids,” she said. “I just love getting a little peek into their world and getting to communicate with them and understand how they think about everything, and being able to do that with a developmental and clinical diagnostic perspective was something that was really, really cool.”

When Masters found out practicum would be canceled for Spring Quarter, she said she was upset because she had been looking forward to gaining real-world experience working with children.

Although Masters may not be able to intern this quarter, she remains optimistic about future opportunities.

“Understanding that I wanted to work with kids and then finding a way to do it in a psychology and developmental perspective was big for me, and then getting this practicum was a step in having real world experience.” Masters said. “But hopefully I will still get to do it in the fall or next year.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @meganmuncie

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @vivianxia7

Related Stories:
Medill cancels all Spring Quarter Journalism Residencies
SESP students face difficulties with practicums due to government shutdown