Interning in a Pandemic: One UConn Student’s Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic might have complicated one UConn student's dream internship, but it didn't derail it.

Side-by-side photos showing UConn student Madisyn MacDonald in the office of Otis Elevator, where she is an intern, and then at her desk at home. Her internship has continued remotely during the pandemic.

Madisyn MacDonald's internship has gone from the office to her home, but she says the experience has been anything but a disappointment (Courtesy of Otis Elevator)

Although it’s disrupted just about every aspect of life in the U.S., UConn student Madisyn MacDonald ’22 (CLAS) is not letting the pandemic slow her pursuit of a career. MacDonald is currently participating in a remote internship with Farmington-based company Otis Elevator, where she is learning about the business world while working through the upheaval caused by COVID-19.

As a mathematics and sociology double-major, MacDonald got a jump start in setting herself apart from her peers by seeking an internship early in her time at UConn.

“I was looking for work as a freshman, and I wanted to get ahead so I started looking at different companies that were hiring interns,” she says.

By utilizing resources available at UConn, namely The Center for Career Development, MacDonald says she was taught important skills – such as effective resume-writing and interview preparation – that were needed to help get her foot in the door. Once she applied to Otis, she was happy to have even made it to the interview stage, and ended up landing the internship,  something she is proud to have achieved so early in her university experience. Otis bills itself as the world’s leading company for elevator and escalator manufacturing, installation, and service. The company maintains more than 2 million customer units worldwide, and in normal times its products move 2 billion people a day.

“I have worked with Otis since September of 2019 as a member in a co-op, as of now I will be staying with Otis until I graduate, and possibly even after I graduate, too,” MacDonald says.

In her time at Otis working as a member of the company’s tax team, MacDonald has learned a multitude of skills touching on a wide range of subjects, from international taxes, to transfer pricing, to credit analysis. “I never expected to be a part of a co-op, but I am so grateful for it because I have learned much more than I would have in a 10-week summer intern program,” she says.

Fortunately, the widespread restrictions that followed the initial surge of cases in the spring did not mean an end to the experience; instead, it has evolved into a remote internship full of new and unexpected learning opportunities.

“The transition was difficult at first. In the office I had the chance to attend in-person meetings and I could walk over to talk to my boss at any time to ask a question,” says MacDonald. “In working remotely I have definitely had to learn about communication and time management. At home there are more distractions so you have to make sure you are in a work-friendly environment.”

Besides building communication and time-management skills while working remotely, MacDonald has been managing all of her department’s work orders and purchase orders to help out with the high work load in the busy transition to working remotely.

In addition to the disruption caused by the pandemic, in April Otis separated from United Technologies, another transition that provided valuable insight into the business world for MacDonald.

“Otis is a huge company, the spin-off was a huge transition, and especially as someone who has no experience in the business world, it was definitely a lot to take in,” she says. “Otis’s executive team had a lot of ‘what-if’ scenarios to be prepared for the spin, but becoming a standalone company in the middle of a global pandemic was not one of those. I was thrown into the mix right before the spin and the pandemic, so I had to adapt quickly. I have learned a lot about how a business operates in such trying times and about myself in general.”

Though it felt like a whirlwind at times, MacDonald stepped up to new responsibilities in response to the pandemic and learned important skills for the workforce.

“I had no experience going into this, but UConn prepared me in so many ways. I am so grateful to have mentors at both UConn and Otis who have taught me so much and have guided me through my journey as a college student,” she says.

Going forward, MacDonald is excited about the future, no matter what it holds.

“To be quite honest, I have no idea what I want to do. Right now, I’m in a process of elimination. My boss has been helpful. He is setting up meetings with different departments within the area of finance to see what I like the best to pursue in the future,” says MacDonald. “Otis is also introducing its very own Rising Leaders Program where you participate in three, eight-month rotations, each in a different concentration within your field. All of the opportunities are what has attracted me to this company.”

MacDonald’s advice to others seeking internships at this difficult time is to not give up. She says at a time when a lot of companies are canceling internship programs, it is important to be persistent: “Keep looking and apply for everything you can, you never know what you have a chance for. Working remotely is definitely challenging, but it is not impossible. Who knows how long this will go on for, so we may have to get used to it anyway.”