Internships Go Virtual in the Age of COVID

Taylor Cray (left) and Liz Theriault are both completing virtual summer internships with the Governor of Maine’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has upended summer plans for many across the state and country, CLAS students and faculty are still finding innovative ways to gain valuable experience, put their expertise to work, and give back to their communities. For two graduating seniors in the Department of Political Science, that has meant taking their scheduled summer internships virtual: Taylor Cray and Liz Theriault are both working remotely for the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future.

Both Cray and Theriault found their internships working with the Department of Political Science and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. Taylor Cray, a political science and women’s, gender and sexuality studies double major, served previously as a Margaret Chase Smith Policy Scholar, a year-long research program in which a student from each of the seven University of Maine System campuses examines an issue of public policy relevance to Maine and delivers a final report and presentation.

Cray’s project, examining youth retention efforts and policies in the State of Maine, led to her attendance at a meeting for Governor Janet Mills’ Welcome Home Initiative, a program that promotes living and working in the State of Maine. It was there that Cray made contact with the Office of Policy Innovation and Future, who conduct related research, and was invited to apply for an internship.

Prior to COVID-19, Cray’s internship was scheduled to involve statewide travel and town hall-style meetings to discuss the specific needs of different areas in Maine. But in light of the pandemic, her role shifted, and she is now focusing on how the Welcome Home initiative might proceed based on the feedback they have already received, as well as brainstorming economic recovery strategies for a post-COVID Maine. She has been tasked with thinking about how initiatives to promote living and working in Maine can be modified to account for the current crisis. Cray says, “I’m thrilled to be a part of this office, and very excited about the work that we will be doing!”

Theriault, a double major in political science and journalism, will be serving as communications intern at the Office for Policy Innovation and the Future. She describes the internship as “a great opportunity for me to combine both of my experiences and skills I have learned.” Her position includes crafting newsletters, press releases and other written documents for the Office, with a particular focus on the Maine Climate Council.

The internship is a natural fit for Theriault, who spent the last three years working as a Student Writer and Media Assistant at the Maine Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). At Maine EPSCoR, she wrote about students and faculty across the state and their research or partnerships with industry members on aquaculture sustainability — focusing on how Maine’s aquaculture industry is working to build a more sustainable and green future that also boosts Maine’s economy. Theriault says she’s excited to help the Maine Climate Council share their work with the public and spread awareness of Maine’s efforts to prioritize the environment.

Amy Fried, chair of the Department of Political Science, reports that Cray and Theriault’s internships are a natural outgrowth of what she describes as the “fabulous policy related work” that each did as undergrads. Fried highlights, too, the significance of the virtual roles they’ve taken up: “I think the Office for Policy Innovation and the Future is and will be engaged in particularly important efforts in responding to the pandemic, from food insecurity to pressing economic issues.”