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A First-Ever Virtual Internship Experience with Cisco High

Writen By: Shivani Desai (Guest Writer)

Lawrenceville, GA Cohort

March signaled a turning point in the already historic 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic changed every aspect of our lives, and students were left to make decisions under a great deal of uncertainty. Millions of students were experiencing a new age of digital learning, with varied results. We were collectively hopeful that things would return to normal by the end of May. The truth is, normal would never be the same again.

Every summer, across 8 Cisco Locations (Lawrenceville, GA; Rosemont, IL; Toronto, ON; RTP, NC; Glendale, CA; San Jose, CA; Boxborough, MA; and New York City, NY), rising seniors and incoming college freshmen are immersed into the company’s history, culture, and technology for an unpaid internship (dubbed externship). Cisco Systems, as a Fortune 500 tech company, already has a long history of problem-solving and creatinglong-lasting customer partnerships, working together to identify [their] customers' needs and provide solutions that fuel their success.”- Sweetie Browne. While some decades-recurring programs were outright canceled in an effort to maintain social distancing guidelines and keep employees safe, Cisco began to rework a number of other activities and effectively redefine their definition of normal. Cisco’s High School STEM Externship was one of the Cisco programs that were drastically modified. The original four weeks on-site framework was no longer possible, so the Sweetie and the program team took the initiative to continue supporting high school students online by holding their first-ever 2-week virtual High School STEM Externship. 

The application process began with a written form that required two letters of recommendation and a school transcript. In addition, applicants had to record two video segments answering questions about why we wanted the internship experience. As an applicant myself, I recorded videos about how I was familiar with Cisco, inspired by its vision, and how the internship experience would enrich my future plans. After this initial submission, qualified candidates were contacted to register for an interview that was conducted by two Cisco employees from different locations. The interview served as a good way for applicants to showcase our personalities by discussing our strengths and weaknesses and showing our interviewers examples of us working in teams. 

 In April, I received the news that I was selected to be among the 20 members of Cisco’s Lawrenceville, GA cohort. Our first task was to attend a series of onboarding sessions with the global program lead and coordinator, Sweetie Browne, through Cisco’s premiere video-conferencing software, Webex. With over 134 peers meeting face-to-face virtually in an unprecedented time, nobody knew what to expect. To Browne, "[Managing the internship program] is more than a job for me, it is my values, passion and commitment to lead and influence the lives of our students to become the best versions of themselves. It is truly an honor to...give students the opportunity to envision what their career would look like in the STEM field and also make them feel empowered and inspired to fuel their potential of who they are to become, our compassionate, innovative thought-provoking next-gen leaders."

By the morning of June 15, I was ready to see how it would all play out. We were greeted by the two Intern Coordinators for Lawrenceville, Karol Mina Valencia and Darryl Terrell. Both had completed the externship last year and had come back as intern coordinators to manage the next cohort. Darryl, who is a rising freshman at Xavier University, writes, “Being an intern coordinator this year was an excellent experience... Despite this year being entirely online, I primarily came back because of my love for the program. Last year, I learned so much from a professional standpoint, and I felt it was my job to make sure the students in this year’s cohort walked away with the same knowledge (and hopefully in some cases even more).”

Everyone was reserved. The mute symbol was prominent on the WebEx screen as we all sat down on our desk setups for the first time since school had ended for another virtual experience. We learned that over the next two weeks, our schedules would be packed with unique sessions; we would be exposed to concepts such as Connected Manufacturing, Cisco Devnet, Packet Tracer Labs, Tech in Schools, and Machine Learning. We were also introduced to programs we could follow during or after university, such as Early in University, Cisco Sales Associate Program (C-SAP), and opportunities including Cisco certifications that we could add to our portfolio. The presenters were great at taking questions and wanted us to cater the interactive experience to what we wanted to get out of it. Several of the presentations focused on examples of Cisco solving a variety of engaging problems, which is of growing importance as the COVID-19