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Change of plans: How CWRU students gained hands-on experiences despite COVID-19 disruptions

In ranking Case Western Reserve University School of Law’s International Law Program among the top 10 in the nation, PreLaw Magazine recognized the law school’s funded internships as its secret to placing so many of its graduates in the field of international law.

Every summer, 30 or so Case Western Reserve law students undertake international law internships around the globe, with organizations ranging from Human Rights Watch and the International Criminal Court to the State Department, the World Trade Organization, Interpol, the World Intellectual Property Organization and beyond. With its $4 million endowment, the law school’s Frederick K. Cox International Law Center provides stipends to cover the students’ travel and living expenses, making these invaluable experiences affordable. In addition, the law school grants academic credit for these placements.

This year, law students obtained a record number of foreign placements. Then, the coronavirus hit. Many law firms, government agencies, international organizations and NGOs  either moved to remote internship experiences or canceled internships for the summer of 2020 altogether.

Undaunted by the pandemic, the leaders of the university’s international law program worked together to create an alternative arrangement for students who lost their summer placements. Such students were invited to work remotely for the summer as research fellows for one of the law school’s Case Global centers, institutes and affiliated organizations, including the Cox Center (co-directed by Professors Juscelino Colares and Steve Petras), the Henry King War Crimes Research Office (directed by Professor James Johnson), the Institute for Global Security Law and Policy (directed by Associate Dean Avidan Cover), the Canada-US Law Institute (directed by Professor Petras), and the Public International Law & Policy Group (directed by Dean Michael Scharf). Students availing themselves of this option were provided $1,500 stipends and could earn three credits under the umbrella of the law school’s International Law Research Lab.

Altogether, the centers’ directors came up with 27 exciting and impactful projects—more than enough to cover every student who had lost an international internship. The projects include working with:

  • Dean Scharf on a report on the shift in security council power to the General Assembly;
  • Professor Petras to develop the first ever compendium analyzing all the Canadian and U.S. laws that apply to the Great Lakes; 
  • Professor Johnson on creating dossiers for potential prosecution of Yemen War Crimes; and
  • Associate Dean Cover on a report examining nations’ responses to the coronavirus pandemic and assessing their compliance with and respect for human rights.

Just as the law school responded to create experiential learning opportunities that maintained social distancing protocols, departments across the university have followed suit. We’ve highlighted some of the adjusted programs.

Case School of Engineering

Biomedical Engineering

This summer, the Department of Biomedical Engineering offered students virtual summer internships that involved creating design projects related to COVID-19. With seminar sessions focused on the students’ interests and virtual talks hosted by renowned staff from Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve, the internships culminated with project presentations and certificates for participation. Those students involved can now use their unique experiences to help secure future research positions. 

Macro Summer Student Seminar Series

Professors Joao Maia and Gary Wnek and senior research associate Shaghayegh (Chloe) Khani collaborated to present a series of seminars this summer for students majoring in polymer engineering. Available through the end of July, the sessions cover topics ranging from coding in Python to interviewing skills, opportunities for those in the macromolecular science and engineering field to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and preparing research ideas.

College of Arts and Sciences

This summer, two experiential learning fellowships were awarded to students in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Rocks Fellowship and The Traub Fellowship sought to fund student projects that could be conducted during the summer of 2020 without travel or access to the Case Western Reserve University campus.

Those who were awarded fellowships received stipends of up to $3,000 as they committed at least 30 hours a week to their projects, each designed for six to eight weeks. To learn more about the experiential learning fellowships and to read about prior awardees, visit the Experiential Learning Fellowship website.

Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences

Students in the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences participated in field education this summer as part of their degree curriculum. They worked with community-based organizations and practice settings while also completing degree coursework.

Although students were not required to do so, many chose to continue their spring field education placements to help their organizations, complete their work with clients or finish projects. Some students had been working with online resources or advocacy efforts, and continued to do so remotely. Others worked in field settings that were more difficult to adapt, but rose to the challenge: They conducted remote therapy sessions, turned social media platforms into resources, and facilitated conversations with their communities online instead of in person. 

Visit the Mandel School’s Field Education page to learn more about the program.

Weatherhead School of Management

This spring, many finance students at the Weatherhead School of Management interned with Cleveland organizations. Though the semester did not end as planned, several students adapted their hands-on experiences to help those affected by COVID-19.

Organizations such as the Greater Cleveland Foodbank quickly saw an increased need to serve the community. Interns took initiative on the organization’s behalf by completing new projects, updating metrics and supporting various financial services. They applied skills from their coursework to maintain operations for the organization, responding to a quickly changing situation.

Even as the spring semester moved to virtual delivery, interns volunteered to support food distribution at the end of March. Students were able to serve their community while continuing to gain hands-on experience.

Flora Stone Mather Center for Women

Committed to the support and professional development of women in STEM on campus, the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women offered two programs this summer to  help students acquire research experience or career prep. .

The Women in Science and Engineering Roundtable program (WISER) sponsors grants for undergraduate women in STEM to pursue summer research. This summer, WISER  expanded the number of students funded from four to 11. These 11 students are receiving a total of $27,000 to conduct their research projects remotely. 

The Mather Center also accepted students into the Program Rewarding Innovation in STEM Entrepreneurship (PRISE), with a total of $12,000 in startup funding available. PRISE was developed to address the underrepresentation of women in entrepreneurial ventures.

Both programs seek to support undergraduate research and entrepreneurial ventures at a time when students may feel uncertain about professional opportunities for the summer.