By Abbie Mellican, Claire Lundveit, Stephanie Slowik
When we each got the email of our internship assignments this summer, we were all excited for different reasons. Abbie was excited to be working in Columbus with the nutrition division, where she had requested to be placed. Claire was excited to intern with friends from previous summer internships in St. Paul in the electrophysiology division. Stephanie was excited to spend her first summer away from home and work with the diabetes care division in one of her favorite cities to visit, San Francisco. When we each received the email that contained the words “100% remote”, we were disappointed of course, yet thankful we would still have an internship and trusting that Abbott University Relations (UR) would do their best for all the interns.
Looking back to when that email hit our inbox, we were also all were very aware of Abbott’s significant role in COVID diagnostics; We were proud that the company that invests in the health and safety of so many people across the world was also investing in each of us (#ProudToBeAbbott). In many ways, this summer’s internship was very similar to previous years’. We were each given high-quality projects related to our fields of study: bioengineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. Just as all other employees were working from home continuing their daily work, we were expected to contribute consistently to our team.
Yet as with everything this year, a 100% remote internship is (wait for it) ~unprecedented~. As a result, both UR and every intern had to alter their expectations for the summer and work hard to ensure that the experience would be meaningful for both the students’ career paths and for the company. Many we thought we knew about being an intern had drastically changed. Take networking, for example. Getting to know our teams, or even the convenience of asking quick questions a few cubicles over, became a major challenge being remote. Although working from home has brought challenges and learning experiences for much corporate America, it was especially challenging as interns in new assignments, having very little background knowledge of our team or project.
Abbott UR supported interns in these challenges by hosting events tailored to the unique circumstance we are in—take a workshop titled “Crushing the Virtual Internship” for example. Events like “Breakfast with the Business Leader” and virtual plant tours were scattered throughout the summer to ensure interns were consistently engaged and actively learning. Activities to socialize and have fun were not lacking. At one point, we found ourselves surfing on ironing boards and wearing 8 layers of clothes to win points during a virtual scavenger hunt. Also, UR created intern challenges every other week to win prizes. As for us, Abbie ran the Abbott “A” logo tracked through GPS to show how she lives #LifeToTheFullest and Claire made a TikTok (quite passionately) explaining which High School Musical character each division of Abbott would be. The final challenge was a Shark Tank competition to pitch business ideas. Claire and Stephanie were on the same team, and Claire shared her T&M knowledge about marketing to gear their presentation towards the business leaders they presented to; they ended up winning runner-up, and the judges commented how their pitch was a well-thought-out and realistic business proposal!
An unexpected benefit of being remote is the ability to more conveniently meet virtually. All three of us could agree that the highlight of our internships was a keynote address from Leland Melvin at the end of the summer. If you’re unfamiliar with Leland as an accomplished STEM education advocate and NASA engineer, you might recognize him from his famous NASA portrait holding hands with his two dogs in his orange “pumpkin suit” (just Google the words “astronaut” and “dog” together). There are some things only astronauts can tell you, like needing new names for the shades of blue you see from space in the ISS. He had so much experience to share, from about being the only black man in his class of astronauts to overcoming an accident that almost prevented him from going to space because he lost hearing in one ear. That was for sure unforgettable and inspiring, not to mention that just an hour later we tuned in to the CEO, Robert Ford, as he addressed the interns and answered our questions. It was one of the most exciting days of the summer, without even leaving the house (and potentially in pajamas)!
Usually (you know, when getting on a plane was normal), Abbott UR hosts Intern Week, when every intern flies into Lake County, IL for an entire week together. There are career workshops, volunteering, and other fun activities at a local forest preserve. Honestly, the best part is getting to know everyone from all across the country. This year, there were events just about every week to spread out over the whole summer of being virtual. We met each other in weekly Fireside Chats, WebEx breakout rooms for professional development workshops, and cross-function intern groups led by young professionals at the company. A few interns set up a Discord to talk and watch movies together. Abbie and Stephanie even worked with UR to host optional Speed-Networking events at the end of every week for all the interns to continue to meet and connect. Even after a long semester of Zoom meetings for our Illinois courses and a long week of WebEx calls for our internships, it was refreshing to video chat with other interns every Friday. We could relate in our struggles, hear about different parts of the company, and build relationships we hope to continue in-person one day.
With so much of the world on hold, we all feel lucky that Abbott upheld their standards with their nationally ranked internship program to deliver a rewarding remote internship experience.