When Life Gives You Lemons: A 2020 Summer Internship Story

While the past few months haven’t exactly been easy for anyone, it’s hard to imagine going through one of the most formative periods of your life — your time as a college student — during a global pandemic. 

One of the staples of the student experience is completing a summer internship, and like pretty much everything else in the world recently, the dynamics surrounding them were turned upside down earlier this year, leaving companies and students to figure out how to navigate the summer season. 

One of those students was Emily Goldblatt, a Poole College senior whose summer plans went from spending two months halfway across the country for an internship in St. Paul, Minnesota, to an extension of her spring semester — working virtually from home. 

A change in plans

Emily Goldblatt

Goldblatt initially received a job offer for her internship in late 2019 after attending the college’s bi-annual Supply Chain Recruiting Event. However, she didn’t find out until early 2020 that she would be completing her internship in St. Paul, home to the headquarters of her soon-to-be employer, Ecolab

“I was definitely excited to be going to headquarters,” she said.

Within what seemed like the blink of an eye, though, the impact of COVID-19 on American companies escalated and she received word that she would be completing her internship virtually.

Ecolab, a “global provider of water, hygiene and infection prevention solutions and services to the food, healthcare, hospitality and industrial markets,” has been particularly impacted by the virus.

“They make hand sanitizer, they make soap dispensers, pretty much anything that you’d find in a hospital. So they’ve been ramping up production like crazy since all this started,” Goldblatt said before starting her internship in June.

Goldblatt spent the summer working with the packaging team in the direct procurement division of the company. Her primary project involved creating a mold database for the company’s North American bottle suppliers. This project would help the company decide long-term which specific molds Ecolab should own vs the supplier owning.

She had to conduct all of her meetings virtually, of course — both with the suppliers and her colleagues. 

Her team would even have a 30-minute meeting at the end of every day specifically to talk about COVID-related issues, giving her a front row seat for the impact the virus was having on corporate procurement operations.

“I constantly watched my team members have to deal with issues like running out of space and receiving late deliveries from suppliers,” Goldblatt said. 

Managing expectations

Despite being able to witness the real-world impact such a historical event was having on her field of study, Goldblatt admits she’s missed out on certain aspects of the traditional internship experience due to the virus. 

In fact, to this day, Goldblatt has still never actually met a single person from her project team in person.

Despite all this, she says she’s impressed with how quickly they managed to adapt their original plans for the internship into a virtual format. 

“Overall, my day-to-day with Ecolab was great,” she said, pointing out the efforts the company made to provide her with a valuable experience, including hosting “lunch and learns” for interns and assigning them mentors from the company’s supply chain leadership development program. 

“I think they did an amazing job. I had plenty of time to talk to my manager and colleagues … but at the end of the day, it felt strange to not be able to meet and interact with these people in person.”

Return to student life

Since NC State opted to start fall classes nine days early this semester, Goldblatt’s internship overlapped with the first week of classes. Fortunately, she was able to complete her work hours around her class schedule.

Now that she’s done with her internship, it’s back to adapting to the current reality of taking classes online — which, based on her experience this summer, she thinks is easier than working a job remotely. “Although I do think it would be different if I was already working at a company and then had to start working remotely, versus starting at a new company completely virtual,” she said.

And while she never met any of her Ecolab team members face-to-face, she did meet one other person from the company over the summer — a fellow NC State student intern.

“She reached out and said she saw that we were both from State, and that she thought it would be fun to meet up sometime,” Goldblatt said. “I ended up meeting her and now we’re friends. She’s in engineering and I’m in business, so we weren’t in any of the same activities, but it was cool to just talk about work with someone in-person.”

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