Wangui Gathungu juggles two virtual internships while finishing degree

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Wangui Gathungu

Gathungu, a media studies major and digital marketing minor at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, is completing two virtual internships during her final semester at UMSL. She is curating and creating digital content for SciArt Exchange, a company that brings art and science together through art contests, events and consulting, and You Squared Media, a full-service advertising agency. (Photo by August Jennewein)

For many people, life looks completely different than it did a year ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the everyday routines of work, school, even running errands, but Wangui Gathungu has some words of encouragement for those figuring out how to deal with the new normal.

“Take advantage of this really weird time,” she said. “Even the smallest thing can make the biggest difference.”

Gathungu, a University of Missouri–St. Louis senior, certainly is.

The media studies major and digital marketing minor is finishing the last semester of her bachelor’s degree and also completing two virtual internships. This fall, she will create and curate digital content for SciArt Exchange, a company that brings art and science together through art contests, events and consulting, and You Squared Media, a full-service advertising agency.

With her expected graduation in December, Gathungu had anticipated doing in-person internships in the summer and fall to strengthen her resume before heading into the workforce.

“In January and February, I didn’t realize the severity of COVID – the impact it would have on everything,” she said.

In March, the move to online classes illustrated the seriousness of the situation. Gathungu realized she would likely have to scrap her original plan and decided to reevaluate things closer to the fall semester.

She started searching for fall internships in the St. Louis area around July but found her options lacking.

“When I would go to different websites, I would see the same companies advertising the same internships,” she said.

Gradually, her searches started to expand. Gathungu noticed companies in larger cities like Atlanta and Chicago were advertising virtual internships on the website WayUp. Suddenly, a virtual internship wasn’t so unthinkable.

“I started to think of the college kids across the country who were sent home in March, who had to work with time differences,” she said. “Some people went to school on the East Coast and lived on the West Coast. They had to go home because of COVID, but they still had school. I decided maybe I can get an internship that’s remote.”

Gathungu landed two. Both companies – SciArt Exchange and You Squared Media – are based in Houston. It’s a lot to take on, but it’s something she felt was necessary to achieve her career goals.

“I needed experience, and this is definitely something I’ll never forget,” she said.

There have been some necessary adjustments, though. Gathungu said she learns better in person and likes the routine of getting ready for the day and leaving the house. It’s forced her to be more disciplined and stick to a schedule.

“I just had to adapt and learn the best way I could,” she said. “Working remotely is different because I’m not getting ready every morning to go to an office. I definitely have to manage my time a lot better because I’m at home.”

Despite the challenges, it’s been a positive experience and opportunity for personal growth.

“It’s definitely reassuring that I can do it, that it is possible,” Gathungu said of her greatly improved time-management skills. “That’s really all I needed to know – that it was possible to do.”

She hopes to have her hands in a little bit of everything – creating graphics, learning about photography, editing videos, writing blogs – over the course of her internships. The desire to do it all stems from a lesson she learned at a panel hosted by the UMSL College of Business Administration. The panel members, digital marketing professionals from companies such as Anheuser-Busch and Amazon, stressed the value of being adaptable.

“That’s something that did stick with me – not to limit myself or put myself in a box,” Gathungu said. “You always want to learn and grow because you never know the opportunities you’ll get if you know how to do a little bit more than the next person.”

Gathungu is also excited to be working in a field she’s been interested in from a young age. TV shows and movies always captivated her – to the point that she and her friends would reenact scenes from TV at school. The dawn of social media deepened her interest and prompted her to learn more about the mechanics of digital media.

“When social media started to grow, I was really fascinated by it,” she said. “The medium is super powerful with everything it can do. It can be a tool. It can be the worst thing in the world. It can be the greatest thing in the world.”

When it was time to decide where to study, Gathungu chose UMSL based on recommendations from friends and family. She saw the internship and scholarship opportunities afforded to a close friend, and her mother is an UMSL alumna.

After graduation, she wants to work at a marketing agency, though that might be just the first step in her burgeoning media career.

“Eventually, I want to transition to working in TV and movies,” she said, “because that’s what originally drew me to media.”

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