A federal internship in the remote workplace

Megan Gent and Jessica Hallman
June 18, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — This summer, as many students acclimate to virtual internship experiences due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, one Penn State World Campus student has just successfully completed an eight-month remote internship with the federal government.

Faith Konidaris and her daughter sit on steps with their flutes

Faith Konidaris (left) with her daughter, Athena.

IMAGE: Provided

Faith Konidaris, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in security and risk analysis with a focus on information and cyber security, served as a Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) intern with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) from September through May. The VSFS is a fully-remote internship experience that pairs students with mentors in federal government agencies to contribute to unclassified projects.

“My job entailed doing a lot of research on emerging technologies and how they would impact critical infrastructure for national protection,” said Konidaris.

Konidaris was one of 17 interns working with ODNI, with others from institutions including Princeton, Harvard and Yale. The competitive internship program is open to U.S. citizens enrolled in college level degree or certificate programs.

For the first half of her internship, Konidaris focused her research on 5G wireless technology, then shifted this spring to studying open-source intelligence and its applications for national defense. Every two weeks, she was responsible for writing and submitting a paper on her research, and at the completion of her internship she produced a video about her experience. For her work, she was featured in a recent Federal News Network article highlighting the VSFS program.

“[After] the State Department shared that, I had people reach out to me from other federal agencies, private messaging about that video and my experience and that they thought it was an incredible video and an awesome [way] to try to encourage students to participate in the program,” said Konidaris.

Those unexpected networking connections were an added benefit for Konidaris.

“There are at least 40 different federal agencies that are involved with the VSFS program,” she said. “So the exposure is out there, making connections and networking yourself.”

She added, “You never know who you’re going to meet, who’s going to read your work, and what it may lead to. Having a federal internship looks really awesome on your resume and you get to build connections that you may not get the chance to do at a smaller company.”

Flexibility to succeed

As a single mother working a full-time job to support her teenage daughter — while simultaneously pursuing her second degree — Konidaris was nervous about fulfilling her degree program’s internship requirement.

“I was trying to prepare myself mentally for having to quit my job to take a traditional internship,” Konidaris recalled. “My biggest problem was, ‘What happens when the internship is up and I don't get a job out of this? Where do I go? I can't go back to my current employment most likely. What am I going to do?’”

It was through a posting from the World Campus Tech Club — of which Konidaris serves as secretary — that the Virtual Student Federal Service internship was brought to her attention.

The ability to complete her internship virtually coincided with her reasons for choosing Penn State World Campus to pursue her degree. With her daughter attending college next year, Konidaris knew she needed a change from her current career in finance that would help her better support her family while giving her a professional boost.

“I wanted something more exciting and something more challenging,” she said. “This field was the answer.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in forensic science a decade ago, Konidaris’ career path took a different turn. But now, as an adult learner, Konidaris knew that a traditional classroom setting would not work for her lifestyle.

“I love World Campus. I can continue to work where a traditional student would have to be in a physical location at a set time or signed in at a certain time,” Konidaris said. “The flexibility of the schedule has been the greatest. I wouldn't be able to do this degree without it.”

But even with the flexible schedule for her remote classes and virtual internship experience, Konidaris said that, at times, she was challenged to balance her responsibilities.

“I probably worked close to 80 hours a week, every week, from September to May,” she said. “Between school and work and the internship, it was absolutely exhausting.”

Though there was some deadline flexibility with her internship, juggling everything was not easy.

“There were a lot of evenings and weekends that I was in tears because I just wanted to quit. I wanted a night off, I wanted to just take a break,” she said. “I was extremely self-disciplined to stay on task and to get the work completed on time.”

While Konidaris had sought out a virtual internship to match her personal and professional situation, she encourages students who find themselves unexpectedly placed in remote internships this summer to make the most of it.

“If that's what life hands you, you take it and you run with it,” she said. “Don't be afraid to ask questions or make a fool of yourself, because that's only going to hold you back.”

She added, “If you end up that all you're able to do is get a virtual internship and you're disappointed and you think this isn't going to be great, [know that] you get out of it what you put into it. Put your best work out there.”

Visit the Penn State World Campus website for more information about online IT programs at Penn State.

Last Updated September 03, 2020