Summer internship aids small businesses struggling during pandemic

Emma Riglin
September 24, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The COVID-19 pandemic hit close to home for College of Information Sciences and Technology sophomore Erica Mi. As the daughter of small-business owners, she knew the challenges these companies were facing firsthand. When she learned about Novaris, an IT consulting organization started by a group of undergraduate students from across the country, and the students’ plans to help small businesses with their technical needs during the pandemic, she wanted to get involved to help those who were struggling. Mi joined the Novaris team virtually, along with 19 other students from colleges across the globe, to give back to the community.

“We all saw the impact of COVID on small businesses and startups,” said Mi. “That’s what drove our innovation and the motivation to be helping these businesses. We combined our forces as students, using our background knowledge to see what we could do to help them.”

The students were separated into several teams based on their projects, with Mi as a member of the business development team. As a member of this team, Mi conducted research for clients and wrote reports about her findings, as well as found other potential clients with whom Novaris could work. Mi was able to help clients from around the world, including in Washington, D.C., California and Spain.

Coming from a family of small-business owners, Mi said Novaris’ goal of helping others meant even more to her, knowing the difficulty of running a small business firsthand.

“I see how hard my parents work and how difficult it is for small businesses to even maintain the business before the pandemic even happened,” Mi said. “Being part of an organization that's helping people in this situation hits closer to home because I know the struggle on the other side.”

With other students from all over the United States and even a few from other countries, Mi said the biggest challenge of the internship was scheduling meeting times that worked for everyone. However, Mi said that it was also her favorite part.

“I guess if it wasn't for the pandemic, I don't think I'd ever have the opportunity to even work with Novaris and see the amazing work that other students globally are able to produce,” said Mi. “Prior to this, we didn’t know each other, and to be able to come together and to see how well we collaborate with each other even in this difficult situation is really incredible.”

Mi said that she was grateful to participate in this experience after her first year at Penn State so she can understand more about the field before she graduates. She said it was important to her to both learn what she liked and didn’t like about aspects of the consulting field.

In addition to her work with Novaris, Mi served as a full-time data and analytics analysis intern at Johnson & Johnson this summer. With her fall classes now in full swing, Mi is also working on a project with a group of nine other Penn State undergraduate students. As part of the Nittany AI Challenge, the group is working to incorporate the use of natural language processing and artificial intelligence to develop a more effective approach to depression treatment and a healthier lifestyle. Their goal is to develop a mental health and wellness journaling application to integrate behavioral activation through activity recommendations. The group plans to showcase the app in the Nittany AI Challenge Celebration event on Sept. 25.

Last Updated September 24, 2020