In the spring of 2020, many college students and recent graduates realized their summer wouldn’t go according to plan. Internships that provided real-world career experience were being cancelled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many companies could not offer would-be interns alternatives. Summer 2020, it seemed, would be one without opportunities for many students.

At the same time, our people were discovering just how much they could accomplish together even when physically apart. Frontline employees worked hard to keep families, communities and businesses connected and many others discovered new ways they could collaborate with their teams through technology. Despite the pandemic, our people were proving how technology could open up new opportunities in extreme situations.

One of our teams decided that some of those opportunities could help students who lost their internships. In a time when many businesses were keeping their heads down, our people stepped up with a new idea: the Summer Learning Academy.

A New Way to Learn

The Summer Learning Academy, which ran from June to July this summer, offered school credits and career experience that students needed to take the next step in their lives. Participants entered a fully online, four-week long curriculum where business leaders taught them about professional development and business acumen. By passing these courses, the “Externs” earned a certificate as proof of what they learned.

More than 11,000 students from 1,700 different schools completed 80 hours of required coursework to receive an official certificate of completion. Thanks to the help from the people at Credly, students were able to share proof of their achievement on social media channels with a validated digital badge unique to them.

But we all know there’s more to career development then learning the ropes. Externs were also encouraged to share their personal stories and engage with speakers using the #ATTExtern hashtag. Across their social media channels, they made new connections with fellow externs and shared their thoughts on the program upon completion.

Below are just a few of the highlights we pulled from their experiences.

“As I began my last semester at the beginning of the year, I was looking forward to starting my post-grad career. Due to the cancellation of many internship and job opportunities, I was unable to get that experience. The AT&T Summer Learning Academy allowed me to learn, grow, and connect with other incredible students across the country.

This experience gave me professional development skills, taught me how to build relationships with recruiters, and about the importance of personal growth. Thank you AT&T and all the speakers for sharing your stories and your great advice.”

– Marilyn Sanchez

“In late February, I was forced to evacuate my study abroad program in Florence, Italy. The chaos surrounding my return home, my rapid transition to online learning, and the worsening pandemic in the U.S. made securing a summer internship incredibly challenging. I’m sure many of you were in the same boat.

For that, I want to extend a huge thank you to AT&T and the numerous guest speakers for making the AT&T Summer Learning Academy possible. I’m certain that the skills I’ve acquired in my 80 hours of business, leadership, communication, media and technology training will allow me to enter the workforce with a diverse skill set and make an immediate impact. More importantly, I’ve heard numerous stories of success and failure that have given me the confidence to take risks and conquer any challenge that stands in my way.”

– Jason Luty

“This past month, I had the opportunity to participate in the AT&T Summer Learning Academy alongside students from all around the world. This was an immensely impactful experience in my career as I learned and developed technical, leadership, and management skills. I attended 21 live sessions and heard from wonderful professionals about varying topics such as visual storytelling, fostering inclusion, leadership resilience and much more.

Throughout this comprehensive externship, I completed training in Human Services, Finance, Advertising, Technology, Communication and leadership. I want to thank the entire AT&T team for organizing the academy, the speakers for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us and can’t wait to continue practicing the techniques and skills I learned.”

– Rania Dali

“Over the last four weeks, I completed 80 hours of entry-level training in project management, design thinking, personal development, leadership, data presentation, navigating the professional world, as well as learned about the advances of machine learning, 5G technology, and AI, as an AT&T extern of their Summer Learning Academy.

I received tremendous value from this externship. Some things I learned and wanted to highlight include the following:

When giving a presentation, people read or listen; not both. Be mindful of what you are presenting on your slides, and make sure to convey a story.

The most valuable thing we have is our attention, and we must wisely choose where we want to spend it.

You can always come out of a tough situation if you have control over your mind. Meditation and mindfulness are your friends.

I am extremely grateful for AT&T. Thank you for having provided me this opportunity and given me the chance to share it with roughly 10k other students across the world. I’ve already begun to apply my new skills and I look forward to sharing them with others!”

– Adheli Gonzalez

“I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the AT&T Summer Learning Academy! This four-week course allowed me to advance myself professionally and personally amidst this unprecedented time while also being able to virtually connect with so many of the other incredible externs. Throughout the 80 hours of self-paced learning and guest speakers, I was able to develop new skills as well as improve many of my existing skills.

Due to COVID-19 many of my opportunities for an internship were no longer available. I am so thankful for AT&T for providing this option where I could gain valuable business and technical acumen, including content about 5G, project management, financial reports, diversity and inclusion, design thinking, AI, machine learning, and leadership. I really look forward to applying these skills and knowledge throughout my professional and personal life! #attextern”

– Kelsi McDonald

With the Summer Learning Academy, future leaders found their footing in an uncertain time. Thank you to the many Externs who joined and shared their stories, as well as the business leaders who made an impact sharing their knowledge.

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