COVID-19 didn’t stop these students from getting real-world experience

July 7, 2020 | Arts & Culture, Society, Business
Cecilia Lietz was set to spend spring in Germany completing the field placement portion of her Bachelor of Communication Studies (BCS) program. She had even taken a couple of German language classes to prepare herself, but in mid-March, as in-person classes were cancelled and international travel came to a screeching halt, she watched her plans to study abroad fall apart.

“I was devastated,” she says. “I thought I had lost my internship and the two years of planning and work I had put into it.”

There was no way she would be going to Germany, but Cecilia (pictured right) was able to salvage her internship with Jugend- & Kulturprojekt e.V. (JKPeV), an organization that delivers educational, creative and cultural activities in cities across Europe. She spent six weeks working remotely with the team, researching and building web quests (a bit like digital scavenger hunts) and creating modules for online programs. The only hitch? Weekly team meetings were at 11 a.m. Dresden time, which is 3 a.m. Edmonton time.

“It was a bit ugly,” says Cecilia with a laugh. And although she wasn’t able to get the travel experiences she had hoped for, Cecilia says there was something valuable to take away from her placement.

“The people I worked with have been very kind and because it’s an international project, I’ve worked with people from all over the place, including Greece, Texas, Bulgaria and Latvia. I feel so fortunate.”

The university shares Cecilia’s gratitude for the flexibility shown by so many of the organizations that provide field placement experiences for students in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Communications, says Neill Fitzpatrick. “Securing remote placements at organizations including Avenue Magazine, the St. Albert Gazette, FC Edmonton, Taproot and the Edmonton Community Foundation meant that we were able to make sure students could graduate as planned,” says the assistant professor in the Bachelor of Communications Studies program who coordinates field placements for students in the journalism major.

Ben Hollihan’s BCS field placement, like Cecilia’s, was completed remotely, but with a much more local focus. He spent eight weeks working with the Yards, helping out with several pieces in the magazine’s summer and fall issues.

“Working remotely took a bit of getting used to, but I enjoyed the freedom and flexibility,” he says. “And it was interesting to see that it’s possible to do this kind of work on your own.”

Ben got to take full advantage of the benefits of remote work, finishing up the last part of his placement with the Yards from accommodations in Lake Louise that he had secured for a summer internship at a local paper.

Just 40 minutes east of Ben’s temporary mountain workspace, Sarah Oberthier (pictured left) was completing her Arts and Cultural Management (ACM) practicum at the Whyte Museum. Her experience is almost exactly the opposite of Ben and Cecilia’s – completing her diploma coursework online and her practicum in person. 

“I always loved the museum – I was born and raised in Banff and used to go there on field trips in elementary school,” she says. When it came time to find a practicum placement, Sarah reached out to the chief curator and was invited to help catalogue the museum’s collection at the Peter and Catharine Whyte house, built in 1931. Because her work was behind the scenes, Sarah was able to go ahead and take stock of every item in the house – documenting conditions, taking photos and entering items into the museum’s database. 

“I was even offered a position to stay on with the museum after my field placement,” says Sarah. 

Courtney Dewar (pictured right) was also able to spend her practicum with an organization she has long had ties with. For the last three years, the ACM student has worked in the Citadel Theatre’s box office and was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to wrap up her university experience with a placement in the theatre company’s fund development department. 

Courtney had just finished her in-person training when COVID-19 shuttered the theatre – a time when the Citadel needed community support more than ever before. 

“We worked really hard to be creative and it felt good to be able to help the team with donor stewardship and the spring fundraising campaign,” says Courtney. “I’ve learned so much and it has been great to see so much support come in from people who care about theatre in our city.”


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