How COVID-19 Has Re-imagined Project Pull Summer Internships in 2020

“I never would have imagined coordinating a summer internship program that was fully online.”

For Lisa Miles-Wilkerson, Director of Project Pull, and Carlos Ramos, Coordinator, planning for the annual summer internship program has been about being nimble and adjusting to the ever-changing global health crisis. Miles-Wilkerson has been Project Pull’s Program Director for many years. Ramos has been a part of the program for six years, three as a participant in the Team Leader role and three as the Program Coordinator. In their combined years organizing the Project Pull program with internships offered across almost every department in the City and County of San Francisco, “normal” is not how they would describe 2020.

This summer marks Project Pull’s 25th summer in existence. Miles-Wilkerson and Ramos had begun planning for this summer late 2019 and hoped to celebrate the program’s 25th summer by providing two-hundred San Francisco youth paid internship opportunities. However, due to COVID-19, they had to adapt to the new reality and redesigned the program. As a result, they have created a virtual program that focuses on career exploration. What used to connect interns to mentors (staff in various roles and functions across the City) in person almost daily throughout the June through August, this year the program has shifted to a completely digital experience due to office closures and staff working remotely.

This summer, 50 youth across San Francisco are participating in one of three pathways as part of their internship experience: engineering, environmental science, and communications. Each week interns have the opportunity to meet with career mentors that are also Project Pull alumni.

Carlos Ramos (left) and Lisa Miles-Wilkerson (right) have quickly adjusted to a Project Pull to be a virtual internship experience for 50 San Francisco youth.

“Our career mentors talk more in depth about their experience in Project Pull, their journey through college and what fields they are working in now. Career mentors then assign projects to the interns that help them understand concepts that are directly related to their fields of interest,” said Miles-Wilkerson. “In addition, youth are researching the direct impact of COVID-19 in our communities which they will then present in the form of a video.”

Ramos shared how many families have been economically impacted by COVID-19, leaving youth to seek out opportunities to support themselves and, at times, their families. “With COVID-19 limiting the amount of social interactions that we are able to have, it is important for them to have a space where they can create community and talk about their shared experiences.”

Miles-Wilkerson and Ramos observed that the interns have quickly adjusted to a virtual summer experience with the program.

“It is amazing to see the amount of resilience that our youth have,” said Miles-Wilkerson. “Given that this is mine and Carlos’ first time designing a virtual program, we were nervous about how to recreate the sense of family that we normally do, through a computer screen.”

“So far, it has been great to see how the interns have been able to create community and share laughs virtually,” shared Ramos. “Many of them meet outside of Project Pull hours to continue working on their projects or to hang out together, but apart.”