Struggle And Hope – A College Student Perspective During COVID-19

Mariela Fernald

MarielaCOVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the nation’s employment landscape, and young people are at particular risk. They’re often the first to be let go, the last to be hired, and major employers of young people—including the food service and hospitality industries—are significantly impacted by the pandemic. The YES Project has been speaking with young people representing various stages of education and employment to learn firsthand about their job experiences during COVID-19 and their advice for how decision makers can support them at this unprecedented time.

Here are highlights from our conversation with Mariela F., age 21, a college student currently studying Business Operations and Project Management in Woodbridge, VA. Mariela is involved in a program offered by Year Up, an organization that provides young people with the skills and professional development they need to build a successful career. Mariela specializes in the Business Track, one of five career fields that participants can follow.

What type of impact has COVID-19 had on you and your community, specifically with regards to employment?

These have been unprecedented times. COVID-19 has had a huge impact on my community as well as across the world. Due to the pandemic I’ve had to adapt to attend my courses from home, as well as work less than I usually do, which means less income. Before COVID-19, I had three jobs while being a full-time student. I worked retail at Clarks shoe store at the mall, I did delivery service for Instacart, and worked as a caretaker for two wonderful children. Due to the virus, the mall was shut down and I stopped the delivery service to avoid exposure to COVID. Luckily, since all public schools were shut down, the parents needed a babysitter to watch the kids during the weekdays since they were both essential workers, and that has been my main source of income.

Throughout my community, many have lost businesses, employment, even hope. But I know if we support each other, we can rise together as a nation again.

What resources have been helpful in navigating employment during this time?

The Year Up program has offered so many resources to their students who need assistance, such as offering at-home WIFI, making sure their students don’t experience food scarcity, or even assuring they have a stable home. Personally, they’ve lent me a laptop which assists me in completing my assignments and attending courses through Zoom. They also assisted me in getting a doctor’s appointment when I was involved in a car accident and experienced severe headaches. I don’t have health insurance and didn’t have enough to pay for the appointment. I’m so grateful I have the support I need while trying to better myself professionally. Year Up has been preparing us and helped mold ourselves into the best professional version we can be and now they are matching us to an internship to get more hands-on experience in our field.

Not only is Year Up placing us in an internship, they also assist in polishing up our resumes and our interview preparation skills to be prepared for the job market.

What are your long-term employment goals?

My goals when it comes to my long-term employment would be in a Project Managerial role. In the Year Up program, I was introduced to the position of being a Project Manager and it interested me tremendously. I’m a natural born leader, therefore I know I would thrive in an environment where guidance and organization are essential. Year Up has prepared me for this role by placing me in a Project Management college course and a bootcamp. I’m also highly encouraged to gain certifications such as Microsoft Excel, Scrum Master, and PMP (Project Management Professional).

If you could send one message or word of advice to employers, what would that be?

During these times, loyalty is being put to the test. It’s vital for companies to understand the importance of treating their employees with decency and respect. If they do so, their staff’s loyalty will never waver. Another very important message I’d like to share with employers is to be open minded when it comes to people who apply to their company. Although some may not have their degree quite yet, they still have experience and certifications that make them just as qualified, if not more in some ways, than college graduates.