Following the outbreak of COVID-19, CSArch has adjusted its student internship program to welcome high school students in a virtual setting.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in New York State, CSArch has adjusted its student internship program to welcome high school student interns in a virtual setting. Led by internship coordinators Elizabeth Brutsch and Bill Preskenis, our internship program is a reflection of the firm’s commitment to education and exposes students to a career in architecture.
This semester, CSArch welcomed four student interns: Conner Doherty and Noah Tutunjian from Shaker High School, Jeremy Pennock from Shenendehowa High School, and Mubashar Warraich from Albany High School. Conner and Noah used their respective interests of cars and hiking to design an automobile museum and a modular hiker’s lodge on an actual site in the Adirondacks. Jeremy designed a pavilion at Saratoga State Park that incorporated structural and landscape design elements to respond to the local environment. Mubashar expressed an interest in computer science and explored C++, the coding software for the Unreal Engine, to write his own script. This week, each student presented their final projects to fellow students, school faculty, and CSArch staff, where they received praise for their thoughtful designs, use of architectural software, and incorporation of the surrounding environment.
Shaker High School student Noah Tutunjian presented his modular hiker's lodge, which was designed on an actual site in the Adirondacks, between the Algonquin and Iroquois high peaks.
Prior to the final presentations, we met with our student internship coordinators to learn about the challenges and successes of the virtual program.
Q: How have you temporarily adjusted our internship program to move away from an in-person format?
A: As a result of the pandemic, the program has gone completely virtual. Students are expected to work on their projects from home and check-in with us during weekly, hour-long meetings to discuss their progress and ask questions. We also hold a weekly Revit training to expose them to the design and detailing software we use at CSArch. These weekly trainings have been helpful in introducing them to tools that can be applied to their college studies and future careers.
Q: Since the statewide shutdown in March, the shift from an in-person setting to a remote model has sparked challenges across many industries, including education. What have been the biggest challenges in a virtual student internship program?
A: The biggest challenge is the inability to sit with the students. While the virtual format gives us the flexibility to meet whenever and wherever, we lose the ability to work hands-on with a student who may be struggling. In previous years, students met with us 4-6 hours a week in a physical office setting. This semester, we spend one hour each week with the students. While that hour is concentrated time dedicated solely to the students, they lose the additional time to work on their projects and engage with other employees in the firm. We also had to figure out a way to properly teach design software from remote locations. The Revit tutorials have been a great solution. They have given the students an opportunity to ask questions and build confidence working in the software on their own.
Q: How have you managed to personally connect with the students despite the lack of in-person meetings?
A: Communication is key. We make sure to keep in touch with students between sessions and address their questions and concerns before jumping into the work of the meetings. Overall, meeting from home is more casual, and the students have opened up more freely and feel more comfortable discussing their designs.
As mentors, we have an open line of communication to make sure we work with students who are struggling and give them the most impactful learning opportunities. The success of each student is a direct reflection on us as mentors. We’re proud when a student walks away from the program with a better understanding of the field and a positive feeling about the future.
Q: What factors contributed to the success of the virtual internship program?
A: Despite the challenges we faced, the continued support from CSArch allows us to devote time and attention to each student and offer a meaningful learning experience. The students have been patient with us as we worked through technology issues, and the program continues to be a success for everyone involved.