Newswise — For some, summer is a welcome break in the academic cycle. For many CSU students, however, summer is the perfect time for career-enhancing internships, life-enhancing service opportunities​ or knowledge-expanding research projects. While this summer posed some COVID-19-related challenges, CSU students still found ways to reclaim summer break as an opportunity to learn and serve.

Meet some of the CSU students who used their summer to better themselves, their communities and their state.


Name: Kao Ger (Rose) Her

Campus: Sacramento State University

Major/Program: Environmental Science

Year: Senior

How did you spend your summer? My internship with the California State Lands Commission's Marine Invasive Species Program involved two different projects. The larger project is a comparison of four different risk assessments to determine whether or not the current one is an accurate assessment for the vessels that arrive to California. These assessments measure the risk of a vessel discharging foreign water on the California coast, which extends out to three nautical miles, and the risk of biofouling (the accumulation of organisms on surfaces) on vessels. This is critical in protecting the California coast from nonindigenous species and harmful organisms. The second project I am working on is a COVID-19 economic impact analysis on the maritime economy. I am analyzing global data to analyze a trend in how our future economy may be affected by this pandemic.

What did you learn, and how did it connect to your studies or future goals? My goal is to work mainly with marine invasion science, so this internship was a large step into that field for me. I have always been interested in aquatic science. I started learning more about invasion science and worked on the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta. However, I wanted to step into the marine environment to learn more about it. This internship has taught me so much about the maritime economy and vessels that come into California every day. I get firsthand experience with the first biofouling regulation ever in the world, enacted by the state of California, so I feel like I can really make a difference and contribute to our lovely state.

As a first-generation Hmong female, these opportunities are rare and possibly once in a lifetime. Hmong women in science are rare. I am proud to be a part of the CSU Council on Ocean Affairs, Science & Technology and will hold this experience as my first step into a world of marine science that would have been otherwise unknown.

How has this experience been unique in light of COVID-19? It has been an interesting experience starting an internship during COVID-19. I work on a laptop from the California State Lands Commission, so my work is entirely online. I meet regularly with my supervisor, Chris Scianni (CSULB alumnus), who is an amazing supervisor and mentor. It is challenging in that I am not able to meet and make connections with people in person. When I am working remotely, it can be hard to learn new skills because it requires a lot of communication. However, I am very lucky to have a solid and understanding supervisor like Chris who has made me feel comfortable during my time with the California State Lands Commission.


Name: Wayne Metho

Campus: San Francisco State University

Major/Program: International Relations

Year: Senior

How did you spend your summer? I interned at the Tiba Foundation as part of the communications team, and this summer we donated soap to the hospital in Ukwala, Kenya,​ to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Following our volunteer spotlight on the soap project, I started working with our partner organization, the Matibabu Foundation Kenya (MFK), to highlight the impact of Matibabu Hospital as well as the ​Matibabu College of Health Sciences and Lifunga School for Girls on the local community. The immediate objective was to get a community member and staff from MFK to share their stories, which we plan on sharing at an annual gala next year.

In addition to this project, I worked to start a group of young professionals in the Bay Area, as well as in Kenya, to network with each other as we continue to assist communities in need.

What did you learn, and how did it connect to your studies or future goals? Through Tiba, I realized my lifelong dream of helping others. I have always been passionate about serving my community and society. Through a global lens, my international relations degree parallels the work Tiba is doing in the field of development. I hope to ultimately become a diplomat after my grad and post-grad work.

How has this experience been unique in light of COVID-19? While interning remotely was not the easiest arrangement, I received tremendous support from the team. It was uplifting to have a great team to stay connected with even though we are apart. I was also energized by their enthusiasm to work with my colleagues in Kenya to assist others in need.


Name: Serina Severance

Campus: San Diego State University

Major/Program: Hospitality & Tourism Management, Meetings & Events

Year: Senior, summer 2020

How did you spend your summer? I interned at the Sag Harbor Inn, a small boutique hotel in Sag Harbor, New York. For this internship, we had to take a look at the company we were working with and find a weakness or area of potential improvement. I noticed the hotel lacked brand awareness. With this information, I took it upon myself to brainstorm ideas to increase brand awareness and came up with the idea of selling promotional products. Since then, I have been designing and creating customized products that the hotel could sell by displaying them in the lobby area or by opening a gift shop. I have designed more than 20 products. The owner was very excited about the entire idea and noticed my potential and creativity, and therefore promoted me to social media and strategic marketing manager.

What did you learn, and how did it connect to your studies or future goals? I learned how to market. It is ever-changing, which makes it a challenge. However, I have applied a lot from what I've learned in my restaurant marketing class. Before you can sell a brand, you have to understand the brand and know what you're selling to the customers. You have to understand the company culture: the what, how and, especially, why. I learned how important this was when designing the products by noticing the hotel I work for lacked a distinctive company culture, which therefore makes it harder to sell the brand. Another lecture that resonated with me was on the need to set yourself apart from your competitors. Having this in mind, I wanted to create products that were unique and different from the other gift shops in Sag Harbor and would make people want to not only buy the product, but become loyal customers who believe in our brand. My short-term goal is to sell these products at the hotel physically, and my long-term goal is to sell them through social media platforms and help the hotel gain additional revenue through off-peak seasons.

How has this experience been unique in light of COVID-19? It has been a great learning experience thus far. I never imagined I'd be promoted after taking on this project, but it really made me realize how creative I could be and how much it was appreciated by my superiors. However, I think I would have struggled doing a virtual internship at a company I had never worked with before. I was lucky to be able to do it at a company I worked with in the past because I understood the ins and outs of the company, and all the employees who work there.


Name: Jared Smith

Campus: California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Major/Program: Agricultural and Environmental Plant Sciences with a concentration in Plant Protection

Year: Senior, summer 2020

How did you spend your summer? While working with the team at Cal Poly's Horticulture and Crop Science Department​​ as a student assistant, we received a donation of two-inch nursery plugs from Proven Winners and grew them out into one-gallon pots, producing hundreds of plants for our customer Morro Bay in Bloom. In addition to helping with the growing, I oversaw the utilization of biological pest control for these plants.

What I enjoyed most about this experience was watching our plants arranged so meticulously to create pops of color throughout Morro Bay. I also enjoyed sharing some of my horticultural knowledge with the volunteers of the Morro Bay in Bloom group, advising them about proper planting techniques and plant maintenance.

What did you learn, and how did it connect to your studies or future goals? My studies have largely focused on the many plant pathogens, weeds and insect pests that affect California agriculture and how to respond to them responsibly and efficiently​. My involvement with this project allowed me to see every step of production, and I was able to gain invaluable experience that will help me with my future endeavors. While my future plans are not set in stone, I plan to obtain my Pest Control Advisers license and work with or in nursery operations.

How has this experience been unique in light of COVID-19? This was a unique experience because as horticulturalists, we work with a living product. There is no taking days off or sheltering in place when it comes to being a grower. The experience of working with and giving back to the community I live and study in was particularly enriching. Definitely a summer well spent!


Name: Jayleen Velazquez

Campus: California State University, Fullerton

Major/Program: Communications, Entertainment and Tourism; Minor in Cinema and Television Arts

Year: Senior

How did you spend your summer? I interned at FanFlex, a platform that connects musicians, fans and venues, as the public relations intern. Some of my duties included creating regular newsletters, engaging music-tech bloggers to cover FanFlex on their channels, writing blog posts and helping manage social media accounts.

What did you learn, and how did it connect to your studies or future goals? I learned how to engage with bloggers and create newsletters. I'm interested in working for the music industry as well. This has shown me a glimpse of what we have to do to spread the name of our artists and company. Although public relations isn't my concentration, being well-rounded and aware of the different positions a company has is helpful. I am still unsure of what I want to do in the future. I just know I have a passion for the music industry and working for a Korean entertainment company. This internship has also shown me a glimpse of the different positions out there.

How has this experience been unique in light of COVID-19? This was my first internship, and the experience has been amazing. At first, I was afraid since there were no meetings in person, and I didn't know what to expect. But my managers were constantly teaching us more and more on a daily basis. We had one-on-one meetings twice a week, and with that time we could ask questions to gain more knowledge about our specific job and about working in the music industry in general. When we met as a team three times a week, my managers tried bringing in music industry guest speakers. We listened to their stories and experiences, and they'd give us tips and words of wisdom. Having a great team and managers who work together definitely made my internship a fun one. Although everything is online, I still feel like I learned a lot.


Name: Samuel Kweon

Campus: California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Major/Program: Computer Information Systems, Information Assurance

Year: Senior

How did you spend your summer? I started my Amazon internship virtually, then transitioned to on-site three weeks in. There were daily and weekly meetings that included executive speakers who would share insight on their experiences and knowledge about their field of expertise within the company. Another example was the networking workshop, where we would build and engage our professional network. We learned skills and best practices from networking experts at Amazon, which is a critical piece of professionalism.

I also participated in change meetings and management for the network and was assigned to a Fulfillment Center engineer team. Amazon then requested I come on site to gain experience and assist the IT engineers in Sacramento with setting up the computer networks for a new fulfillment center being launched in the area. This included everything from provisioning a switch and firmware upgrades to Cisco products to working on other projects. One project the team worked on is placing on-site game stations for associates in every fulfillment center incorporated with Amazon Robotics. This included making changes to the domain name server, utilizing Amazon's network, reporting framework to design and creating the separate network for these stations.

What did you learn, and how did it connect to your studies or future goals? I learned a lot about being a professional employee. From improving communication, refining my skills and continuing to learn about working with a team to improving my technical skills in computer networking and Linux administration, these are skills that will directly translate into my future goals of entering an evolving field. It has been very exciting, and I loved going to work each day.

How has this experience been unique in light of COVID-19? At first, I was worried I would not be able to gain real-world experience in such an important summer before graduation. However, I found that Amazon really put a lot of time and effort into their internship program to ensure I learned my role and the company. The biggest hurdle was having to adjust and improvise. I had to be proactive in the way I communicated, which is one of the biggest skills you can learn today.


Name: Vanessa Trissthain

Campus: California State University, Los Angeles

Major/Program: Microbiology

Year: Senior

How did you spend your summer? I work as a student professional at Cal State LA's Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, and a lot of my current tasks are related to the Institute's 2020 Census outreach initiative. I have helped with phone-banking to reach out to Cal State LA alumni living in Northeast LA, and I also texted Hard-to-Count communities to get the word out and encourage everyone to fill out the census. I am primarily focused on helping the Institute develop its social media metrics corresponding to our census activity. Another task I worked on was helping to design a graphic for our census flyers and the layout for our social media platforms, which captures the attention of our audience and continues to spread the word on the importance of the census.

What did you learn, and how did it connect to your studies or future goals? I've learned a lot from my time at the Institute, from improving my professional persona to gaining skills I can apply in my studies and future career. I hope to become a statistician in the field of science, and various tasks I've performed at the Institute have helped me to understand data sets not just as they apply to science, but in a broader sense. While we know data plays a critical role in helping us have a better understanding of various fields, it also has an important role in making a difference in society. Take, for instance, the census. Census data is important because it determines the amount of federal funding that goes toward communities, schools, hospitals and even public works. Especially now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can see how science and public policy go hand in hand. We need funding for data and scientific research in order to make appropriate and efficient policies that might help overcome this pandemic.

How has this experience been unique in light of COVID-19? Working from home has had its obstacles, with its own distractions and curious family members. But over time, my family has learned to accept the new normal of my working at home. Regarding our census initiative, we changed our outreach to virtual (phone, text) because of the pandemic, and it has received a positive response. People are more engaged and responsive to our texts for the census than anything else we have tried. I'm looking forward to continuing to work on this census project in the fall.

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