Gaby Cornejo has enjoyed her internship with CVS Health this summer. Courtesy photo.

At the outbreak of COVID-19, native Westside resident Gaby Cornejo was studying in Great Britain, stressing on how she would make it home to the United States. Today, the rising senior finds herself a college student in Missouri, an intern in Arizona and a resident of Santa Monica — a description that only seems possible in 2020.

When she first secured an internship with CVS Health near the beginning of 2020, Cornejo had no idea what would be in store for her throughout the course of her 10 weeks in the American healthcare company’s corporate intern program.

“I started recruiting during late October 2019,” Cornejo said, detailing how the ban on travel forced her and hundreds of other students to abandon their study-abroad programs within a 72-hour span. “I finished my interview process in London. So that was also kind of a hectic time to work with the time changes and everything, but I thought I made it work.”

Then COVID hit, “and it was crazy. Everybody was crying and it was really hard trying to figure out what to do with our deposits for housing and stuff. But I luckily made it back,” Cornejo said. And perhaps even more luckily, the first-generation college student still had an internship opportunity that would allow her to work on CVS Health’s financial team.

CVS Health officials said they hope to hire more than 65% of the more than 300 interns who were selected to participate in the recent virtual internship program; and as a minority and the first prospective graduate in her family, Cornejo said it’s been great to see CVS Health engage with students who share a similar story to her.

“They’re really looking to pull in minority students and I know a lot of minority students might not have the same connections as other families, so it’s really nice for CVS Health to bridge that gap and have a good structure and guidelines that show us how to get where we want to be,” Cornejo said. “The program has a very strong pipeline and they also train students in different sectors like marketing and investment banking.”

As somebody who has aspires to inspire minority students to take the leap into the corporate world and become leaders, Cornejo believes her internship, which is set to end in early August, has proved to be invaluable.

“I was hearing from other companies that their internships were getting canceled and I was so stressed out because I spent this whole time preparing for interviews, getting through the process, and so to maybe not have that opportunity and have to redo the whole process or figure out something else was very stressful,” Cornejo said. “Luckily, CVS Health announced that we would be doing a virtual model… I was wondering how that would work at first but everything was planned out. There was no miscommunication or anything. It’s all been really smooth and an amazing learning experience.”

As a member on the Medicaid finance team, Cornejo has a number of real-world duties assigned to her.

“I’ve gotten a broad spectrum of work that’s helped me understand what it’s like to work in Medicaid and the different areas. My manager has done a great job of connecting me with people so I can see what they are doing on the business side, the accounting side, and all of that mix has been great.”

It’s definitely been different than if the internship was in-person because interns aren’t able to overhear people’s conversations and see what they’re doing, Cornejo added. “But the program, in general, has definitely done a great job of helping us mend that gap by having a lot of opportunities for us to meet other people, especially within my team.”

There are about 40 interns in Cornejo’s finance cohort, “and every week, they randomly group us into fives, and we set up a networking call so we can meet each other and talk about what’s been going on in our projects, share tips and tricks, and just talk about how things are going to kind of get that bond because we don’t have meetings with each other. We don’t see each other walking down the halls every day, so that’s been really helpful to have that structure.”

As somebody who has known what she has wanted in a career for some time, Cornejo said it’s important to receive real-world experience in an environment like CVS Health because students won’t really know if a career is for them unless they try to do the job themselves.

“And I think that the junior year internship is the prime time to have that experience and see if you like the work that you’re actually thinking about doing,” Cornejo said. “And then to know this is one of the main pipelines into a full-time position for CVS Health — that makes the experience even better because you know if you work hard and make the most of the opportunity, then you can end up actually working in a field of your dreams.. It’s been very helpful to make sure that I know that finance is the correct place for me, and I’m loving it so far. I really want to do this for the rest of my life and I’m thankful I got the opportunity to find out.”

brennon@smdp.com