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Sophie joined NEC’s marketing team during summer 2020 by interning during the pandemic, a time of video calls and emails, rather than a face-to-face office experience. Here she shares her story.

I had the unanticipated, but brilliant, honour of being the National Extension College’s first-ever remote Marketing Intern over the summer. At the start of my second year at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, I was not expecting to spend half of the academic year studying remotely from my childhood bedroom due to a global pandemic. Nor did I expect to be welcomed so warmly into NEC’s team by video call! 

How did interning during the pandemic differ?

As a pioneer in online distance learning, NEC was well-placed to adapt to the new circumstances that organisations across the UK found themselves in during the national lockdown which started in March. Although I have never experienced working for NEC in the office, I was introduced to the whole team virtually and gained a really strong understanding of how the staff work together to widen learning opportunities. Despite the potential difficulties of a virtual internship, I felt like a valued member of the team right away as I was given lots of responsibility to manage my own time and projects while having the comfort of friendly colleagues only a call away to ask for any guidance I needed. 

Before working at NEC, I already had a strong passion for tacking educational inequality so I was very excited to work for an organisation dedicated to widening educational opportunities. I was the elected Access Officer on the Murray Edwards College Student Union in my second year at university, where I was responsible for representing the views of working-class students and improving educational outreach to underrepresented groups. It was incredibly refreshing to work with many like-minded individuals at NEC and I am proud to have been involved with NEC’s mission, if only for a short period of time. In particular, I was inspired by NEC’s commitment to ensuring the opportunity of online education reached as many learners as possible. One of my projects was researching and reaching out to charities and organisations to build partnerships and raising awareness about the option of online learning.

What does a marketing intern do day-to-day?

An important date in NEC’s calendar is always A level Results Day and this year was no different, so I was excited to be involved in the preparation for it. However, A levels were very different this year – they had been cancelled for the first time in history; even continuing through the Second World War. The replacement for exams was to be Centre Assessed Grades, set by tutors or teachers, moderated by a central algorithm. The process hugely disadvantaged private exam candidates, many of whom were unable to even receive a Centre Assessed Grade. As NEC is an approved exam centre, our students had received Centre Assessed Grades. Unfortunately, the government algorithm meant that our students suffered significant downgrading on Results Day, which was a huge shock and disappointment to NEC students and staff alike. The highly collaborative working culture of NEC meant that we all pulled together to ensure the best outcome for our students. The team effort included monitoring the social media accounts to reassure our students we were working hard to fight their corner, updating the exams information page and producing blogs and a press release. The government U-turn on A level results meant that many of our students eventually received the grades they needed. I really enjoyed helping to celebrate the success of our A level students by producing blogs for the NEC website, such as Laura and Timofei. After all their hard work, it was lovely to hear their interesting stories and where their NEC qualifications were taking them next. 

I have gained valuable insight into the behind-the-scenes processes in marketing, which will hopefully make entry into the job market after graduation a little easier. With the support of NEC, I grew in confidence to build new skills, including understanding web page-building on WordPress, social media management on Hootsuite and efficient methods of research and analysis. I am very grateful to NEC for aiding my professional development and allowing me the initiative to explore the aspects of marketing that I was particularly interested in. 

In a world increasingly reliant on online spaces and resources, organisations like NEC and the Open University are playing an important role in leading the educational sector. Other institutions, including my own university, have a lot of catching up and learning from online distance learning providers to do. The level of support given to NEC students is impressive and unique, with help from the Student Support Team, expert tutors on hand to help and give feedback on assignments and engaging, interactive online resources. In this new normal, I am proud to have experienced with NEC how online learning providers can do it best.

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