Shortened internship leads to rewarding gig archiving pandemic perspectives

Jessica Hallman
April 15, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Like many college students across the country, Nick Alico saw his summer internship cut short last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

So he used his newfound time to address COVID-19 in a new light: as a data analytics intern for the Penn State Viral Imaginations: COVID-19 initiative — an online gallery and archive that showcases Pennsylvanians’ experiences during the pandemic.

“It functions as a database of artistic and prose works of Pennsylvania residents and is intended to be a catalog and curation of their perceptions of COVID-19 and how it impacted their lives and the community around them,” said Alico, a senior studying human-centered design and development in the College of Information Sciences and Technology and the Schreyer Honors College. “Hopefully the next generation won’t have to live through a pandemic, but Viral Imaginations will help them understand how everyone got through it, and their feelings and perceptions.”

Viral Imaginations was launched in May 2020 as an interdisciplinary collaboration between a number of Penn State units. The publicly accessible platform includes online galleries of creative writing and visual art. The site will serve as an archive and virtual time capsule to help document the impact of modern pandemics on individuals and communities.

As a data analytics intern, Alico manages the data of content submissions and performs data analytics on things such as how Viral Imaginations can more efficiently reach a particular group or which social media platforms generate the most activity and traffic. In this role, he draws on the knowledge he’s gained in the College of IST.

“Within my role at Viral Imaginations working with data analytics, I have leveraged multiple languages and software solutions that I have become familiar with while enrolled in IST courses,” he said. “This includes utilizing knowledge about databases and SQL, Python scripting and file parsing, and Google Analytics to gain more context surrounding visitors’ demographic background and artistic interests.”

Alico has supplemented those skills with extracurricular activities at IST and Penn State. He serves as an IST diplomat, through which he represents the college as a student ambassador, and he was a founding member of the Penn State Chapter of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA), a student organization that offers educational, professional and practical user experience opportunities. He’s completed internships with GE Healthcare, Oracle and Bucknell University.

“With the opportunities I’ve had at Penn State and IST, both inside and outside the classroom, I feel prepared to work in industry,” he said. “Penn State provides such well laid-out student organizations and programs that helped me to gain leadership opportunities outside the classroom.”

One of those opportunities is serving as an undergraduate research ambassador to connect undergraduate Penn State students with research experiences — a University role he was drawn to after his own experience as a Schreyer Honors Scholar, through which there is an emphasis on research.

“Being presented with the opportunity to conduct research and complete an honors thesis led me to question many facets of technology I thought were already answered,” he said. “This fact, in combination with the support of my IST curriculum and instructors, has driven me to want to encourage more students to pursue research opportunities in areas that excite them.”

While Alico has benefited from all he’s gained at Penn State, he recognizes that his college experience has been impacted by the pandemic, which is why he has continued to volunteer with Viral Imaginations since the internship ended last summer.

“Viral Imaginations allows Pennsylvania residents to resonate the feelings they’ve internalized uniquely,” said Alico. “Especially since we’ve been cut short of collaboration and intrapersonal communication through the pandemic, (giving people an opportunity to share) their feelings and interpretations in a different format and different venue has been really enlightening and interesting to be a part of.”

He concluded, “Gaining a better understanding through others’ coping mechanisms and emotions surrounding how they got through the past year is something that I didn’t really think about until I actually saw their embodied artistic representations.”

Last Updated April 15, 2021