July 24, 2020

Graduate student internship shifts gears during COVID-19

Fine Arts master's student Zach Scalzo acquires new learnings and experience

Doing an internship during normal times is a learning experience, but what about doing an internship during a global crisis? Zach Scalzo stepped up to the plate by adapting, innovating and showing leadership qualities to get himself, his co-workers and his community through a challenging time while interning at Springboard Performance.

Calgary’s Springboard Performance connects artists and audience to the body and mind through physical contemporary creation and public space activation. It’s no wonder Scalzo, a fine arts master's student specializing in playwriting, was excited to be their curatorial and engagement co-ordination intern, starting his role in September 2019. In March 2020, in response to the onset of COVID-19, Scalzo transitioned to working remotely to help care for his immunocompromised family member.

Grad students poised to adapt to changing times

For Scalzo, the internship was an opportunity to learn new skills and improve existing ones. He quickly found his communicator hat while engaging with external organizations, managing several stakeholder meetings and connecting regularly with co-workers remotely. He also received first-hand experience in creating, rewriting and revising policy while taking into consideration sustainability, optics and the needs of the stakeholder, especially in a time of crisis.

With every success, Scalzo gained confidence in his abilities as he applied new learning quickly. Scalzo was also keen on using this time to stand by his community. He thought of his internship as an invitation to find new ways to champion the arts community and connect with the wider Calgary community.

I’m using this experience to consider how I can be an actionable support or resource for the arts community at large.

Much of Springboard’s summer programming was cancelled or needed to be re-envisioned but Scalzo and his co-workers didn’t let that stop them. Acknowledging that people often look to the arts for comfort and connection, they saw this as a great opportunity to continue to build and support the community by exploring alternative ways of connecting and engaging with audiences online. 

These initiatives included the development and performance of Making Love with the Land and 5 Minutes to Change the World, both of which will be available for online public viewing in October 2020. Before the end of his internship in June, Scalzo helped to collaborate on ContainR site, a pop-up arts and culture hub in Sunnyside which this year is taking on a new flavour to accommodate the province’s health recommendations and guidelines.

Internship leads to personal and professional growth

No opportunity comes without its challenges. Working from home and not being able to physically travel to school, the office or a library tested his organizational skills. Scalzo became masterful at balancing his research, teaching and internship while looking after his family using colour-coded calendars and to-do lists to stay organized and accountable. His trick to reducing stress and burnout? Scheduling in unproductive time and play time!

Internships help confirm career direction

As a graduate student who is majoring in playwriting, Scalzo admits that he has “been primarily invested in writing for physical bodies on a physical stage where we're all in the same room together.”

Being able to see and explore new ways of connecting with an audience has inspired a new way of thinking. He not only engages in playwriting, but also now in the policies that enable a festival or company to run while supporting the artists and audiences, changing the way he approaches his plays. A current playwright and aspiring future artistic director or general manager, Scalzo still aims to write normal sit-down plays but has embraced his new learnings on policy, communication and the digital space, and looks forward to applying that to his future career regardless of our future world (i.e., virtual or live). 

 “This internship gave me the opportunity to explore the potential of becoming an artistic director or a general manager for a company and the sensitivity of what that means,” says Scalzo. These new experiences will help make him a competitive candidate after graduation.

Consider applying for a Transformative Talent Internship

While doing his internship Scalzo received a salary top-up through the Transformative Talent Internship program. This program encourages graduate students to seek experiential learning through internships and reflection. Graduate students who complete the program are eligible for a $500 completion award. Students working for startups and/or not-for-profits, like Scalzo, may also be eligible for a salary top-up.

If you are interested in applying for an internship, Scalzo’s advice is to just go for it and be confident in your skills. Give everything your best shot from writing your resume, preparing for your interview, to the job itself.

Submit your applications to My GradSkills, Faculty of Graduate Studies early. Applications are reviewed at the first of every month. Learn more.

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Consider applying for a Transformative Talent Internship