Lizzie Melcher gets up on a typical work day, grabs breakfast and coffee, and heads upstairs to begin work. After three internships with the company, she was recently hired as a full-time employee, where she uses advanced virtual reality (VR) tools to design the production process for the U.S. Army’s Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV)’s medical variants in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Her day includes meetings, collaboration sessions, and short breaks to chat with her coworkers, and she is doing it all remotely.
A day in the life of intern Rachel Marion in New Hampshire is spent hard at work performing structural analyses of antenna components for the EC-130H/EC-37B Compass Call electronic warfare program. She relies on lots of instant messages and emails with her manager and team to stay connected and make sure her work is on the right track. Although she worked in a BAE Systems facility over the last two summers and knows the company well, she hasn’t been able to meet this year’s teammates in person due to COVID-19 precautions.
She says working remotely can make things more difficult. “I really prefer being able to talk face to face,” she reflected. “It’s more of a challenge now to clarify everything, but fortunately BAE Systems has done a really good job of adapting and helping us as interns to get the job done.”
Although the program operated at a reduced capacity in 2020 due to the global health situation, the fact that nearly 250 BAE Systems interns were able to get valuable professional experience this summer is a testament to not only the company’s flexibility, but to theirs.
Adapting our internship program to allow it to continue in the current working environment was a strategic decision, said Lauren Wiley, internship coordinator for BAE Systems’ Platforms & Services sector. “This is an investment in our future workforce, so we knew we needed to be flexible to make it happen,” she said. “Plus, we really wanted to be able to honor our commitments to as many interns as possible, because many of them needed this experience in order to complete their degrees.”
Sometimes “hands-on work” means showing up in person
Over on the west coast, Zach Nicholas starts his day at about the same time as his fellow interns in the east. Before the sun has risen at the BAE Systems shipyard in San Diego, Zach arrives at work to check his emails and see if there are any updates from the dockmaster. Then it’s off to his first meeting of the day at 5 a.m., but he finds it easy to be a morning person because he loves working around ships.
He laughs as he recalls the second day of his internship: “I got pulled out of orientation to participate in the tandem undocking of the USS Stethem (DDG 63) and USS Decatur (DDG 73). I was given real hands-on responsibilities, and everyone was more than willing to help me if I had any questions.”
Zach has taken apart and tested hydraulic pressure units, figured out how to troubleshoot capstans, and helped the crew by connecting their equipment to shore power. Pandemic or not, this essential work simply can’t be done remotely.
Nevertheless, PPE is taken seriously, Zach said. “Masks are required, and there are hand sanitizer stations everywhere. Working safely is always a priority in a shipyard, and this is no exception.”
For Zach, the mentorship and hands-on experience he is getting are the best parts of his internship. “The crew here really wants me to learn, so they let me figure out a solution on my own and come back to them if I have any questions. I have learned so much over the past few months.”
Looking on the bright side
Eric Rosenthal, a data science intern in McLean, Virginia, is excited to take what he has learned at school into the real world and apply it in a more practical setting. His responsibilities include teaching an advanced data analytics class for employees, creating exercises and capstone projects for people who don’t have much experience in the field. Having majored in environmental informatics, he is hoping to apply his skills to the field of geospatial analysis.
Making valuable and lasting contributions to the business and to national security is what Eric likes most about his internship experience. And his contributions are recognized. “My coworkers treat me as a peer instead of as a student,” he said, echoing similar comments made by the others. “There is a mutual respect there.”
Eric checks in with his supervisor daily and accompanies her to virtual meetings, where he is able to listen to the cadence and lingo that define professional life. It also gives him the chance to make more contacts than he would have under normal circumstances. “The people we meet with are located all over the place. If these meetings had been in-person, I wouldn’t have gotten the same level of exposure. Now that we’re all remote, I can participate and be more involved.”
Learning to pivot and exploring options
Some interns, such as Michelle Smith in Rockville, Maryland, and Raven Austin in Endicott, New York, are remotely supporting their teams with essential software work.
Michelle, a new intern whose primary focus is industrial and systems engineering, was able to pivot to performing remote but much-needed maintenance work on SharePoint sites. Her goal is to eventually transition to working in one of the company’s manufacturing facilities, and she has already managed to make connections around the business to start exploring possibilities.
“As a first-time intern, I didn’t think I would get to make as much of an impact as I did,” she said. “And the support and engagement has been great: plenty of video calls and coffee breaks for personal interaction and networking.”
Raven spent last summer helping employees in Endicott upgrade the operating systems on their computers. He enjoyed making the rounds and chatting with everyone he met about their jobs as he considered potential career fields. He eventually decided he wanted to experience digital analysis, and is looking forward to exploring that more in the future. For now, however, he is making good use of his C++ and C# skills to develop and refine software that makes processes more efficient.
BAE Systems is a very large company with a diverse portfolio of programs, which Raven appreciates. “I like learning about different parts of the company so I can see where I can best fit,” he said.
Resilience in the face of challenge
Exploring careers, getting practical, hands-on experience doing work that matters, networking, and growing professionally: these things may be more challenging during a global pandemic, but they are still possible thanks to the dedication and resilience of our interns, their managers, teammates, and the program coordinators.
“Some of our interns have never set foot in one of our facilities, so they are essentially trying to virtually navigate one of the most important parts of an internship – getting acclimated to the company’s culture and building their networks of mentors, other interns, and contacts,” said Anthony Frazier, internship coordinator for BAE Systems’ Intelligence & Security sector. “But they rose to the challenge and made use of all of the technology at their disposal to perform meaningful work and broaden their experience. I can’t speak highly enough of the resilience of this year’s cohort.”
“As an intern, you still have to complete your work, and it’s still challenging and interesting,” Rachel concluded. “We are able to stay really productive even if we don’t get the full experience.”