In the Spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of college students around the world with classes moving online, internships rescinded, and graduation ceremonies cancelled. These developments have affected the career plans and aspirations of a generation of college students. CCWT launched this oral history project to document and amplify student voices and experiences during the pandemic.
Sara Martin graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a double major in Supply Chain Management & Information Systems and is a currently in the data science master’s program. During her time as an undergraduate student, Sara acquired a number of internship experiences. One was at Thrivent as an application engineer. Later she worked as an intern at Menasha Corporation. Sara spends a lot of time training in software development and has learned a lot of new coding. Currently, she is seeking employment, looking all over the country using LinkedIn to see who is hiring during the pandemic. She has moved home to Chicago to finish the semester online. The interview for this profile was conducted, edited, and condensed by Mary Dueñas.
Could you tell me a little bit about what your life has been like over the past year?
Over the past year, I started my master’s degree in data science, pretty much right over the summer after I graduated. At the same time, I interned for a company called Reveture and partook in a three-month training program to be a software engineer. So, for three months, I was living in Virginia near their headquarters. After I did my training, I went on and got a job over at JP Morgan Chase in a software development role. Currently, I am looking for a new job in the middle of the coronavirus. I feel that my time has been spent doing a lot of learning, I have been doing a lot of training to get established as a software developer. So, I have had to learn a bunch of new coding languages. That is pretty much what I have been working on and going to school full-time.
Are you currently seeking employment? If so, can you kindly explain your hiring and search process?
Yes, I am seeking employment. Right now, I am pretty much looking anywhere all over the country. Well, I am going like on my LinkedIn account and trying to network and figure out who is hiring. I am applying to any position that I qualify for. I am primarily keeping it to software engineering roles, because that is what I like doing. I am looking for remote work; and trying to figure out the best place to go.
I feel that my time has been spent doing a lot of learning.
What are some of the challenges in seeking these opportunities?
One challenge is the lack of experience, because a lot of software engineering roles want five years of experience and I only have a year or so. So, I am trying to get into one of the junior roles but with all the COVID-19 stuff happening right now, a lot of companies that I have talked to have stopped searching for people. So, that is what is happening. I have just been waiting around for companies to get back to me on the hiring process again.
Could you describe your perceptions of the pros and cons of completing an internship?
I think the pros of having an internship is that you get lots of experience. You get experience in working with people and in how to communicate with others. So, when you first get to the internship, you are clearly made to understand how a professional conducts themselves. The internships help you figure out what it is like in the workplace; in the real world. A lot of the internships I have been a part of have been willing to teach you and help you develop your skills. So, there is a lot of company enthusiasm and engagement to help out the interns. I think that is been the great part about it.
The internships help you figure out what it is like in the workplace; in the real world.
On the negative side, I feel like there is a lot of pressure in internships because you have to go through so many interviews; and at UW-Oshkosh, they made a big deal about it; “you have to get this internship. If you do not do an internship during your time as a student, you cannot graduate.” So, I think it just adds a lot of pressure to it.
What are some of the changes that have occurred in your life given the COVID-19 pandemic?
It is hard to find employment because a lot of companies have gone remote. And they do not know when they are going to get back up. I have had a couple interviews that I had lined up but then they decided to stop the process because they are concerned about the economy. So, it is definitely a challenge in that regard. Because companies are very wary, they do not want to just start bringing on people for no reason. And having a background in software engineering, sometimes it is hard to put someone into a remote position that is not fully developed compared to someone who has experience and can just hit the floor running. So, that is kind of another challenge. It is just hard to find a job right now because everyone is looking for a job. So, it is like stressed out because you still have bills and everything you have got to pay. It is out of your hands, so there is really nothing you can do because companies do not want to do anything at the moment. I am hoping that it does not last too long, but it seems like it is going to go a little longer.
In terms of my responsibilities, I am still doing school, and now I am more focused on studying and keeping up with technology and practicing my coding. I am just applying to jobs here and there. Luckily, I do not have to stress too much about going out and doing all this other stuff around Chicago. So, I do not have to worry about all the travel and everything like that and catching the virus and stuff.
How are you coping during these challenging times?
I just try to do some more things that I like, like playing some video games. Trying to just talk to friends. I hang out with my fiancé and I work out a little bit. I bought some workout equipment for my apartment so I can sort of keep moving since our gyms are all closed. I have been trying to do stuff like that and trying to get my mind off a lot of things.
Mary Dueñas is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis and is a Project Assistant for the Center of Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Mary is originally from Pasadena, California, graduated from the University of California, Irvine and has a Master’s in Science in Counseling from UW-Madison. Before joining the team, Mary worked for the Posse Program, the Chic@ Latin@ Studies Program, the Summer Education Research Program, served as director for iD Tech, and is an instructor at UW-Madison. Mary’s research examines the experiences of underrepresented students of color in higher education. Central to her work are the concepts of belonging, mattering, cultural-orientation, motivation, academic success, and persistence within the university setting.