By Lauren Victory

CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s a problem affecting university students nationwide: internships are in jeopardy.

We’re not talking about summer internships but school year-round internships that are required for graduation. The coronavirus is messing with opportunities and possibly delaying livelihoods.

Morning Insider Lauren Victory shows us the dilemma playing out on the University of Illinois Chicago campus.

An empty UIC campus now won’t look much different in a few weeks, when most classes will be taught remotely.  Elijah Eiler’s required internship just became a virtual experience, too.

Eiler, who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work, is grateful it wasn’t canceled, but “if you decide at some point that because of COVID-19, it’s too difficult to integrate that intern into your work, then you can say nevermind.”

That’s the fear spreading among classmates.

Field placements, as they’re called, are graduation requirements meant to be immersive, in-person learning opportunities.

Elena Gormley say it can be hard to replicate virtually, if at all.

“If there aren’t opportunities to find alternatives, you’re going to have a lot of students who are stuck not being able to graduate,” Gormley said. “For social work, at a time when we really need social work more than ever.”

Other students here and nationwide might not have an at home option. It creates a COVID-19 Catch 22: intern in person during a pandemic or delay a future job.

“It’s already a stressful time and this is a stressful thing,” said Gormley.

Then there’s the COVID-19 safety contract UIC recently sent to social work students.

“It also included some language stating that our field placements can be suspended at any time and if that happens, that could mean that our ability to graduate is delayed,” Gormley said.

Neither one feels comfortable signing that.

Even though all internship locations are required to create an emergency remote plan. Administrators even bolded in an email that the college will “identify, share with you and implement strategies.”  

“That language in their email is somewhat reassuring, but they’re still asking us to sign this contract that doesn’t have that language in it,” Eiler said.

Advocates advocating for themselves, just like their school taught them.

We sent UIC administrators the field placement agreement from Virginia Commonwealth University which UIC students say is worded more fairly.

A campus spokesperson ignored that example in his statement, only reiterating the school’s commitment to working with students. He said UIC’s contract will stay as is.

Here is the full UIC statement:

The main priority of the University of Illinois at Chicago continues to be the health, safety and wellness of our students, faculty and staff. Jane Addams College of Social Work (JACSW) is committed to the success of our students and by extension the health of their families and communities. Thus, we will continue to monitor all developing and relevant information on the COVID-19 virus. Per accreditation requirements by the Council for Social Work Education, students enrolled in the JACSW Master of Social Work degree program are required to successfully complete their assigned field placement in order to fulfill the college’s academic degree requirements. The College will work vigorously with all students, and provide workable strategies and options, should there be any concerns or disruptions concerning completion of their field placements.

Lauren Victory