By Jade Kim, Student Success Specialist

The 2019/2020 Base 11 Academic Year Internship was about halfway through its course when the COVID-19 pandemic forced academic institutions all over to close down their campuses in the name of student, faculty and staff safety. For UCI and Caltech, this meant drastically pivoting their Base 11 programs to accommodate physical distancing protocols while maintaining the same level of program quality that Base 11 students have come to expect.

UCI mentor Michael Allotey

“I feel like Covid-19 literally came out of nowhere. Adapting the program to work remotely wasn’t easy, but the truly hard part was keeping the interns motivated and engaged,” said UCI mentor and former Base 11 student, Michael Allotey.

Despite not being able to meet in person, university staff and mentors quickly devised a plan to convert the programs to a completely virtual format, utilizing video conferencing platform Zoom to host class discussions and devising clever ways to maintain the “hands-on” aspect of the experience.

Although the UCI Autonomous Systems Engineering Academy (ASEA) interns were no longer able to go into the fabrication labs to work on their drones, they were still able to see their projects come to life by sending their computer-aided designs to UCI lab manager, Ben Dolan, who then printed their parts and sent them to Michael for assembly.

“Thanks to some quick thinking, teamwork among the mentors, and steady support from the Base 11, we were able to come up with a curriculum that everyone could learn from. We operated as a team and gained valuable skills while having fun with technology,” said Allotey.

The Caltech Aerospace Mentorship Program was also tasked with taking their internship program online, something Caltech mentor Morgan Hooper went above and beyond facilitating. Using Piazza, a collaboration platform popular at Caltech, Morgan was able to host lectures, share resources, and hold real-time Q&A sessions for the students.

A screenshot of the UCI ASEA internship’s final presentation held via Zoom

“I was able to meet new people with similar interests, and make valuable connections. I learned valuable skills such as getting the basics of Solidworks and working with a Raspberry Pi,” said Cerritos Coll

ege student and UCI intern Jose Valdivi. “I had the ability to learn about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. I personally feel that I am more comfortable putting myself out there and taking advantage of the opportunities I am given.”

Transitioning to a completely virtual classroom format was a challenge for students as well, but they did not let that hamper their internship experiences nor prevent them from gaining all that they could from it.

“I was totally lost before this program but now I really know what I want to do for my career. This is in addition to all of the other amazing experiences and information that I got during this year,” said Glendale Community College student and Caltech intern Roomina Esmaeili, who will be transferring to Cal Poly Pomona in the fall.

Caltech intern Roomina Esmaeili’s foil rendition of Mars

Both programs culminated by holding the students’ final presentations via Zoom to an online audience of fellow interns, university faculty, grad students, and Base 11 representatives. The efforts of the quickly adapting university staff combined with the motivation and willingness of the interns came together to ensure a successful conclusion to an otherwise challenging situation. With these innovative alterations in place, the Base 11 Academic Year Internship program will be continuing for the 2020/2021 school year, and applications are now open.

“What Base 11 does really makes a difference in the future of student lives and I highly appreciate it. Being involved in any kind of program at Caltech was always a dream of mine. Now that I achieved it, I believe that I can have much bigger goals,” said Roomina.

For more information about the Base 11 Academic Year Internship program, click here.