High school intern Foziya Mohammed (left) meets virtually with her mentor, HumRRO’s LaVonda Murray (right)
High school seniors across the country have seen their final year of secondary education come to an abrupt end. Classes are online, prom is canceled, and graduation ceremonies are up in the air. Even companies are ending coveted senior-year and summer internships that many students depend on for experience, resume-building and a paycheck, according to TechCrunch.
HumRRO did not want the same fate for its high school intern, Foziya Mohammed, a senior at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va. Interning since November through a partnership with Urban Alliance, a national youth development nonprofit, Mohammed will continue working from home, gaining valuable work experience and skills, as well as a paycheck, until the internship’s original end date in July.
“The Urban Alliance High School Internship Program has been a rewarding and valuable partnership for HumRRO,” said Suzanne Tsacoumis, Ph.D. president and CEO. “We certainly didn’t want to see it cut short and lose Foziya’s contribution because of the Covid-19 restrictions.”
To help contain the spread of the virus, HumRRO began encouraging all employees to work from home in early March, and that included Mohammed. In fact, nearly all 80 seniors who are participating in the program from Alexandra, Arlington and Fairfax have transitioned to telework arrangements with their employers, according to Urban Alliance NoVA.
“Working from home was weird at first, but I got used to it quickly,” Mohammed said. Urban Alliance matched her with HumRRO because she expressed an interest in psychology. “I had never heard of industrial-organizational psychology before coming to work at HumRRO,” she said. “I’ve since learned so much about I-O psychology and all the different careers I could pursue in it.”
LaVonda Murray, administrative coordinator at HumRRO, serves as Mohammed’s mentor and oversees her work and training. Mohammed works four days a week, three hours a day, completing a variety tasks assigned by Murray and HumRRO researchers. Her scope of work hasn’t changed; only the way it’s delivered. Murray set up a Google Docs folder to share files, so that Mohammed could continue formatting employee resumes, adding newsletters to a searchable database and properly citing research in white papers using APA style.
“I’ve learned so much from HumRRO about working in a professional office,” said Mohammed. “I’ve improved my skills in Microsoft Word and Excel, and in APA style as opposed to MLA. From Urban Alliance and HumRRO, I am learning how to build my resume, create a good LinkedIn profile, write cover letters, and practice interviewing and networking.”
Beefed Up Virtual Training
Prior to the “social distancing” measures, Mohammed and her fellow interns would meet up at Urban Alliance every Friday to learn workplace skills, share experiences in group discussions and ask questions in a safe environment. Urban Alliance quickly adapted these Friday sessions for online delivery so that the students wouldn’t miss a beat.
“We feel it’s important to continue providing the Friday workshops for students to engage with each other and learn,” said Christine McCurdy, executive director of Urban Alliance NoVA. “It gives a bit of continuity when so many other things have been upended. We conduct the workshops in smaller groups using Zoom, and we’ve gotten positive feedback from students so far.”
To help mentors fill in any work gaps now that students are teleworking, Urban Alliance provided its business partners with online training seminars to assign students. Topics include writing for business, time management and goal setting.
Murray assigned Mohammed an online public speaking seminar that they participated in together. The program fit nicely into Murray’s goal of mentoring Mohammed on soft skills. “She’s a bright young woman who learns quickly and takes direction really well and acts on it,” said Murray.
Before Virginia schools closed, Tsacoumis spoke at a college and career information session for all Urban Alliance NoVA students. Mohammed practiced her public speaking skills by introducing Tsacoumis to the group and moderating the question-and-answer session.
Mohammed is still deciding where to attend college in the fall and what her major will be. She is grateful to another HumRRO mentor, Angela Lee, Ph.D., for speaking with her about the I-O psychology major and about college life in general. “I explained that college is a great opportunity to get exposure to introductory material through classes, professors and office hours, internships, volunteering and peers, no matter the major,” said Lee.
“I hope we are all back in the office before Foziya’s internship ends in July, but in the meantime, I’ll continue to connect with her virtually to stay connected and to ask if she needs any help or advice,” Lee added. “Foziya asks the right questions, and I’m confident her critical thinking, ambition and empathy will take her far.”
While Mohammed is sad to miss her senior prom and other activities, she’s happy she can finish her HumRRO internship with the virtual support of her mentors. “LaVonda and Angela are helping me prepare for the future, and I know I can go to them if I need anything,” she said.