Undergrads and companies embrace virtual learning

By Lottie Watts
Published Aug 12, 2020

This week was supposed to be big for Indiana University undergraduate Abigail Shafer. She would have been wrapping up her internship in San Francisco, and returning to Bloomington, Indiana, to start her senior year.

But the pandemic turned everything sideways this spring.

She was sent home early from study abroad in Milan in March, as Italy emerged as a coronavirus hot spot. Just a few weeks later, the call came from the recruiter saying Gap was canceling in-person internships.

“I knew it was coming, but it was heartbreaking,” says Shafer, who is studying finance and apparel merchandising and had secured a competitive internship with Old Navy. “I was devastated at first.”

Like so many, Shafer was suddenly without a summer internship, an experience that often leads to a job offer and helps students confirm what they want to do for their career.  As companies adapted their traditional in-person internship programs to a virtual setting or faced the tough decision to cancel, new prospects emerged, including the inaugural NRF Foundation and AEO Inc. Retail Industry Summer Experience.

“Despite the unforeseen challenges this year has brought, we have always been firm in our belief in the power and optimism of today’s youth,” AEO Inc. Executive Vice President and General Counsel Stacy Siegal says. “When we made the difficult decision to suspend the 2020 internship program, we were committed to finding an alternative way to connect with impacted students and bring them the expertise to develop their careers.”

The Retail Industry Summer Experience brought together six retailers – AEO, Designer Brands, Gap, Levi’s, Meijer and URBN – and featured webinars over eight weeks this summer, with presentations from each company, professional development sessions and panel discussions on sustainability, technology and diversity, equity and inclusion.

“These companies have been able to truly adapt and bounce back, and that showed me that retail is the industry I want to be in,” Shafer says.

She was among the more than 250 college students who opted-in to the online program, and says she appreciated the inside look at multiple retailers at a time when things are changing at such a fast pace.

“I was so nervous I wasn’t going to find clarity, and I feel like I’ve found more clarity than I probably would have been able to,” Shafer says. “I’m so grateful that all these companies took on this project and were selfless enough to want to help students. To still be given an opportunity when everything else – and every other opportunity – has been taken away is amazing.”

As NRF’s nonprofit 501(c)(3), everything the NRF Foundation does helps people do better for themselves, their families and their communities. This fall, we’re expanding opportunities to learn about retail from the people who power the industry with NRF Foundation All Access. Register now for our free program.

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