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Lorna Brown, HRUP Program Intern

March was a turning point as the global pandemic created ripples across every individual’s way of living. From health, work, housing, and food – the impact of current events have changed our routines from the norm.

As a rising senior at the University of Michigan, my junior year was cut short by rising cases across the state. Despite classes going virtual, I was still presented with the opportunity to intern at Cisco for the summer, through the HRUP Program.

My dream of getting to live in California for three months during the summer changed. And I was disappointed that a large part of my once-in-a-lifetime experience would boil down to online meetings and remote work. The cohort of eleven other college interns would not get to meet each other in person – and I thought this change would cost us the ability to build meaningful relationships.

However, I resolved to change my disappointment into a positive summer experience. I turned my room at my parents’ home into an office. Three steps away from my bed, I could turn my computer camera on and sip my favorite tea, while hopping on Webex meetings. To my surprise, the elements of relationship-building and fun were still very much present in my intern experience, even while virtual. We played Family Feud trivia, where we guessed songs and movies, a self-care night with face masks, and a paint-by-numbers kit – all to ensure that we connected across the cohort despite the unexpected changes within our program.

But things were not always perfect. At the time of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor murders, my well-being diminished, and showing up to work was not easy. As the pain that continues to impact my community was thrust to the forefront of the nation and world, processing these events was unbearable. Despite this, I deeply appreciated Cisco’s response to these moments.

On June 1st, the all-company check-in with Cisco’s Chairman and CEO, Chuck Robbins, featured Darren Walker and Bryan Stevenson, who discussed the historical, economic, and social implications of racism and its continued effects within corporate America and the world. Blackness is continually ignored or tokenized for other peoples’ self-preservation. While there is certainly no easy fix to these social issues, Cisco’s response made me feel seen as an intern and a valuable asset.

With the civil strife that has occurred, it’s easy to lose perspective. The impact that these past months have had on my personal life has been centerfold for me, especially during the stay at home order. To help broaden my scope of life outside of my own experience, I interviewed three people who work at Cisco within the People & Communities (P&C) and Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) space. While life has changed for everyone, these interviews certainly brought forth joy and hope for me.

Perspective from a graduate intern

Jose Avalos, Graduate Intern

Before the beginning of the pandemic, Jose Avalos, a student pursuing his MBA at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, was used to being busy. His time as a fifth-grade teacher in Connecticut with Teach for America and being the son of a first-generation Mexican-American mother created a love for education and learning. Moving back to his hometown of San Jose to attend graduate school was not much different until the pandemic hit. Many internships were cancelled as things started to become unclear nationwide, and the pressure mounted for landing a summer internship at a company.

Now, five months since March, Jose has adjusted to working from home. Social events and check-ins that once seemed impossible are now more accessible than ever. “I’m in a place of privilege…as an MBA student at a big tech company. Getting a new laptop and being able to work with so many brilliant minds.” Jose recounts his past months and the position he is now in with Cisco as the world continues to change around him. “My biggest [concern] is my family, and fortunately, they’re safe.”

While the scope of work has changed for this graduate intern, Jose says his life outside of Cisco also shifted gears.

“I’ve also realized you can’t take Mother Nature for granted.” With the nonstop schedule of pre-pandemic, he was not as focused on his health, so is now spending more time outside. When asked what he recommends, he says “just get outside and walk, it’s made my days better… and go preferably with someone you love.” It’s become such a regular part of his routine that he has become an avid step-counter, with a goal of 10,000 steps a day – something he never used to think about before when he used gyms as his main source of exercise. He jokingly adds that he’s thought about moving to Colorado, although he’s never visited the state before – just to be a little closer to nature with his partner.

Concluding the interview, I asked what entertainment he recommends or has recently consumed. Jose chuckles and says, “Being a business student, I have to say Business Wars, a show where two companies go head-to-head each season.” For all those who love podcasts, he recommends Equity, a podcast by TechCrunch that has a specific focus within Silicon Valley, followed by the Daily New York Times. And, of course, he is rereading all the Harry Potter books again (he’s on the seventh one currently). Despite the recent twists and turns, Jose has created a routine out of the unexpected.

Stay tuned for a follow-up article diving into the perspectives of two CSR Communications employees as they share their lives during these past five months!