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A silver lining for interns sidelined by COVID-19

By |2020-08-24T08:21:13-06:00Aug 24, 2020|Categories: COVID-19, For Employees, Our People|Tags: , |

When the coronavirus began sweeping the United States last spring, Viasat – along with many other companies – made the difficult decision to reduce its summer 2020 internship program. To those whose internships were rescinded, the company instead offered a series of professional development courses and a stipend for completion of the program.

Student Katie Steidl was pleasantly surprised when Viasat offered the professional development courses. It was more than she saw other companies providing.

“I had other friends who were going to intern elsewhere; their internships were canceled with no compensation of any sort,” Steidl said. “With Viasat, hopefully you could still learn something, and get insight into what the Viasat experience would be like. I thought that was a really good opportunity.”

“I thought the stipend – that they still offered something to help me financially this summer – was incredibly generous. From my very limited experience with Viasat, I not only think the company makes very interesting products, it seems to me they really care about their employees. I really think I will be looking into fulltime employment with them this year.”
– John Hammond

For Elias Wooten — a computer engineering major at San Diego State University who’d planned to intern at Viasat’s Duluth, GA office — the change in his anticipated summer plans led to some unexpected experiences. Not only did he complete the courses, Wooten secured an internship with another company. It’s an experience he believes would make him an even better Viasat employee.

“I try to live my life with a no-regrets mentality,” he said. “I would like to have gone to Georgia. But now I’ve seen aspects of different cultures and processes this other company had, experiences I could potentially bring back to Viasat.”

The summer detour hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for Viasat. Wooten worked part-time for the company through most of 2019 in the satellite control center.

“I had a really good experience working there,” he said. “The team was awesome. The project I was working on was much more advanced than anything I’d done in school so far, so I learned a ton.

“I was actually hesitant to get another internship because I enjoyed my time at Viasat so much, but I didn’t want to be bored this summer. Now I’m hoping it will help me secure an opportunity with Viasat in the future.”

Wooten also gave the workshops a thumbs up, saying they provided information he hopes he can use in his future career.

Professional development

John Hammond, an electrical engineering student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, had planned to intern at Viasat’s Tempe, AZ campus.

“I was very excited for the opportunity to work at Viasat,” Hammond said. “So I was really disappointed when the internship was canceled, but I understood.”

John Hammond photo

John Hammond

Hammond instead continued working as a research assistant at the university throughout the summer, and took the courses offered by Viasat.

“When they told me about the professional development workshop, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But they were good.

“The one that stuck with me was about building your personal brand. The speaker talked about how we should always be looking to just do people favors, and not necessarily expect anything in return, how that can help us advocate for our career and personal growth. And that to me was a really interesting idea.”

Hammond also appreciated the stipend Viasat provided to those who took the workshops.

“I thought the stipend – that they still offered something to help me financially this summer – was incredibly generous,” he said. “From my very limited experience with Viasat, I not only think the company makes very interesting products, it seems to me they really care about their employees. I really think I will be looking into fulltime employment with them this year.”

Like Wooten, Steidl had already had a taste of working for Viasat. Steidl, who’s pursuing her masters in industrial engineering at California Polytechnic State University, interned with the company in the summer of 2019.

“I worked as a business process analyst intern and loved it,” she said. “I learned so much and got to meet so many cool employees. So this was going to be my second internship.

Katie Steidl photo

Katie Steidl interned with Viasat in 2019.

“I wasn’t super surprised that it didn’t happen. It made sense given the whole situation. I was sad but it would have been worse if I hadn’t interned there before.”

Steidl took four of the nine courses offered, recognizing some of the speakers as employees she’d met during her 2019 internship.

“That was cool,” she said. “I also appreciated that they talked about knowing your values and skills, building your image and defining how you want others to see you in the workplace. I felt that was valuable.”

In September, Steidl will return to school. And while she never got to serve her 2020 internship, she still takes with her good memories of her summer experiences with Viasat.

“I think it would be nice to return and work there at some point,” she said. “They treated me like a real working adult. They definitely make their interns feel heard, and that they want to help them.”

Tough decision

Viasat’s Corporate Vice President of Engineering Paul Baca said the decision to alter the 2020 intern program was difficult, but he felt the company arrived at a good compromise solution.

“We were deeply disappointed when the coronavirus forced us to re-think our internship program,” he said. “The interns bring us new ideas, diversity and energy over the summer, plus they get exposed to our unique culture and future career opportunities.

“When we realized the program should be cut, we looked for a way to keep the interns engaged and united with our vision to connect the world. Our University Relations team quickly formulated the concept of the professional development program, which worked out very well for both the interns and Viasat.”

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About the Author:

Jane Reuter
Jane Reuter has a long history as a newspaper journalist in Colorado. She works as a corporate communications writer out of Viasat's Denver office.