Virtual internships allow students to work from home

By Paige Pearcy, Daily Staff Reporter
Published July 23, 2011

Imagine interning with diplomats while simultaneously attending classes in Ann Arbor. It may sound impossible, but a program started by the U.S. State Department provides students with opportunity to dabble in virtual internships.

Originally launched in 2009, the Virtual Student Foreign Service was created by the U.S. State Department and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to allow students to work with U.S. embassies and consulates abroad without leaving their homes. Such virtual internships program can be both beneficial for busy, ambitious college students as well incomparable to the experience gained while working in office, according to an official at the University’s Career Center.

Bridget Roddy, program manager of Virtual Student Foreign Service, said the program serves as an alternative for State Department internships that students may be interested in.

“Secretary Clinton created the program as a way for college students, U.S. citizen college students, to be involved in our State Department’s diplomatic and developmental efforts,” Roddy said.

The internships allow students who can’t pursue opportunities abroad to both work for and learn about the State Department, she added.

“It’s for students who might not be able to do normal internships, whether it’s traveling overseas to work with our U.S. diplomatic posts there or traveling to Washington to work at the State Department headquarters ... to still be able to participate in diplomacy and still be interested in diplomats,” Roddy said.

Geni Harclerode, coordinator of internships and experiential learning at the University’s Career Center, said that while there are various benefits to having a virtual internship, there are also drawbacks including concern over getting adequate exposure to the work environment and working in isolation as opposed to being amongst coworkers who may provide connections to future jobs. However, she said VSFS is a venture the University supports.

“Certainly it would be the kind of thing that if a student was to come in and talk to anyone in our office about an interest in careers in public service, it would probably be one of a number of things we might discuss with that student in terms of opportunities,” Harclerode said.

Harclerode said virtual internships are available not only from the State Department, but also from companies in the private sector, adding she has noticed an increase in internships with private companies that allow students to work from more convenient locations.

“We have seen an uptake in the number of postings for opportunities that are organizations that are based out of state or Ann Arbor but are hiring students to work from home or work from Ann Arbor or be able to do things remotely,” Harclerode said.

According to Roddy, as a virtual intern students do various tasks such as research, website building and virtual exchanges with other students overseas.

“Truly the program is unique in that all the projects are self-identified by offices and by our employees, so it really varies on what the needs of the office are and what the office is,” Roddy said.

One student from the University participated in the program last year and worked with the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai, India to aid the Consulate with new and social media as well as connect journalists there with those in the U.S., according to Roddy.

Roddy added VSFS has become larger and more competitive in each successive year since its inception, noting that 91 spots were available in the second year and this past year the number has increased to 146. Additionally, the program received 1,439 applications this year, an increase of 1,000 over last year, according to Roddy.

VSFS takes students of all years ranging from freshmen to Ph.D. students, Roddy said, adding that 43 percent of the 2010-2011 pool consisted of students at the graduate level or above.

A list of internships is on the program’s website and all have varying requirements, some include knowledge of a certain language or having a level of proficiency with different programs. The unpaid internships run from fall 2011 to spring 2012 and ask the “einterns” to spend 5-10 hours per week working, according to the VSFS website.