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Win-Win-Win: How Stantec’s Virtual Internship Succeeded

March 04, 2021

Our North American Buildings internship program provides the opportunity to learn, grow, and connect. This year’s program was virtual due to COVID-19.

Last year presented a learning opportunity for Stantec’s North American Buildings interns—instead of looking at the COVID-19 pandemic as an obstacle, we used it as an opportunity for innovation. Though the internship experience looked different from years past, adjustments made still allowed us to provide young architects, interior designers, and engineers a great start in their careers.

Moving Ahead Despite COVID-19

With offices closed and staff working remotely, this year’s Buildings internships went virtual. For Caleb Krouse, a senior structural engineering major at the University of Nebraska, this meant he didn’t walk into a Stantec office and meet the people who would advise him. Instead, Caleb logged onto a computer from home. The change didn’t bother Caleb—he was happy to still have an opportunity to learn.

“Many of my peers were contracted to work with other large companies—and a vast majority of those companies cancelled their internships, leaving my friends without jobs,” says Caleb. “Stantec upheld its promise to design with community in mind by continuing to teach the next generation even when the future is rocky and uncertain.”

Caleb—who had planned to temporarily relocate to work in Stantec’s Los Angeles office for the program—was one of 23 students who joined the Stantec Buildings business operating unit virtually from June 22, 2020 to August 7, 2020.

Over the course of the seven-week program, the students collaborated with designers, planners, engineers, project managers, and technical leaders while exploring the frontiers of engineering and design, honing their skills, and discovering the future of design. The experience helped them grow their communication and time management skills, as well as their ability to work within multidisciplinary teams.

How We Adapt When Circumstances Change

How did Stantec prepare and launch a virtual offering so quickly? By building on a program our Texas Buildings team had already developed.

“Buildings professionals in Austin, Houston, and Plano, Texas joined together several years ago to give our interns broader exposure to the work we do across the state,” says project architect Samantha Markham, who helped launch the Texas-wide approach. “We use Microsoft Teams and video conferencing to build connections between our interns and intern coordinators, so we had the content and structure in place to expand across North America—and four time zones—in a short amount of time.”

Samantha and the Texas intern coordinators were excited to invite interns in other states and Canada to participate and to share their program with Stantec peers across the continent.

What We Gain from Giving Back

People at all levels of our organization gave time to make the unique internship experience beneficial for participants. The program benefits our communities, people, and clients too:

1. We connect with our communities

We care about the communities we serve because they’re our communities too. Students are an important part of these communities. The North American Buildings internship program reflects our commitment to community by giving developing professionals important skills that will serve them well in their careers. Through activities like our lecture series, we identify and build relationships with emerging talent that may join our Company later as permanent colleagues.

And you know what? The program worked. In a survey completed at the conclusion of the year’s program, all participating interns responded positively to the experience and said they would consider joining Stantec full-time after completing their degrees.

2. We provide our people with opportunities for creativity and growth

The unusual circumstances created by COVID-19 meant Stantec professionals supporting the internship program had to engage differently with the 2020 cohort of students. For the first time, intern coordinators relied fully on Microsoft Teams to communicate with their interns. Interns still experienced a well-rounded and personal experience, and intern coordinators, like architectural designer Abhishek Bodkay (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), strengthened their leadership abilities.

“Some students were hesitant to speak up and share their voices when they joined us,” Abhishek says. “I arranged regular chats to help increase their comfort levels. As a result, they grew more expressive over time. This chance to build my own soft skills has made me a better communicator.”

3. We better serve our client relationships

The positive impact of the internship program extended to our clients. For the interns’ final project, we divided the participants into four teams. Each team worked with the non-profit organization Artist Boat to create a potential design for its future Environmental Education Center. The teams presented their work directly to Artist Boat via Microsoft Teams, which offered the students a rare opportunity to connect with a client and develop presentation and relationship-building skills.

The presentations were special for our client, too. Artist Boat executive director Karla Klay was blown away by the presentations.

“The students presented so many great visions of our center,” Karla says. “It’s inspiring.”

Artist Boat is reviewing the designs and will likely incorporate several of our interns’ proposed elements as they pursue Living Building Challenge certification for their project.

When circumstances change, we must adapt quickly to keep our projects on track and our clients fully supported. We learn to adapt through experience—and what an experience this was for the interns. Exposing organizations like Artist Boat to creativity, innovation, and excellence and supporting the community through our internship program are examples of living our values. 

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