Students adapt to a COVID summer


Graphic by Molly Gold '21

Linnea Jagenberg ’21 and her sister, Bella Jagenberg ’19, launched their own clothing company, Ava & Gray, in efforts to make a line of affordable and unique graphics that reflected their personal styles. The sisters lauched the business during quarantine and have been working on it ever since.

For most, summer consisted of socially distant trips to Compo beach, masked excursions to local shops and small outdoor get-togethers. Students nationwide were forced to cancel previously established summer plans and acclimatize to the pandemic precautions these past school-free months. 

Some found themselves with silver linings. Passionate students were able to participate in online internships, volunteer at local organizations, travel out-of-state for work and even start their own local business despite COVID limitations.

Rishab Mandayam ’21 took part in a summer internship at Lockheed Martin, an aerospace and defense company. This was his second summer at the company, as he had applied for the position after a coding competition at Lockheed during his sophomore year. 

“Last summer, I was able to walk the factory floor and watch as new helicopters were assembled and flown out for test flights,” Mandayam said. “This summer, due to COVID, we all worked from home so [I] missed out on the onsite experience.”

Although COVID-19 caused the internship to be solely virtual, Mandayam was still able to work for the helicopter division at the company alongside programmers and aerospace engineers.

“A typical day consists of developing software, attending meetings and collaborating with people stationed all over the world [in order] to create something meaningful,” Mandayam said.

In addition to internships, many university and professional summer classes were moved online. Tessa Moore ’22 participated in the New York Times Public Policy and Activism course which focused on various social issues including racial justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, and police reform. Participants heard from guest speakers, discussed possible public policy and conducted independent research to eventually present to the class. 

“I learned so much from the teachers and guest speakers, and it was really cool to meet a bunch of other kids that were as interested in current issues and passionate about social justice as I am, even if it wasn’t in person,” Moore said.

Students stuck at home most of their free-time by working for local organizations. Teagan Church ’22 volunteered at NGO Sustainability, an environmental organization based in Fairfield County. 

“Day to day, we were making and putting up flyers, contacting local news sources and clubs and spreading the word about the new compost area at the Transfer station here in Westport,” Church said. 

The organization also partnered with Sustainable Westport on a composting initiative.  

“COVID made all of our communications virtual,” Church said. “It was a little weird meeting people and getting to know them completely over FaceTime, Zoom and texting.“ 

Although many summer opportunities were moved online, some students were able to travel for work and have a seemingly normal experience accompanied by coronavirus safety measures. 

Lauren Spheeris ’21 stayed in Ohio for two weeks working for Michelman Inc., an international chemical corporation that develops and manufactures advanced materials for environmentally friendly companies. 

“Because of COVID, I spent half the weeks working on site and the other half working from home,” Spheeris said. 

She worked in labs with the chemists carrying out experiments and testing emulsions as well as in the offices sorting mail, filing documents and scanning work orders. 

“I learned how a chemical company that uses so much water and energy in the factory implements a sustainable working environment,” Spheeris said.

Some students took it into their own hands to take the summer months at home to explore entrepreneurship. 

Linnea Jagenberg ’21 and her sister, Bella Jagenberg ’19, launched their own clothing company, wanting to produce a line of affordable and unique graphics that reflect their personal styles.

“A few months into quarantine, I had found out that my summer job had fallen through due to the pandemic,” Linnea Jagenberg said. “[Bella and I] spent April and May of this past year starting the business from scratch.”

The girls launched the company Ava and Gray on July 2 through their social media accounts. A strong social media presence has been crucial to help expand their outreach beyond local  customers. Soon after, the sisters created a website to sell their merchandise as the business grew.

“[COVID-19 has] made a lot of the behind-the-scenes work more difficult,” Linnea Jagenberg said. “It’s much more difficult to manage finances when the banks are closed or make decisions about materials we want to use without being able to see them in person before we buy them. It’s all about trial and error.”

Despite the challenges, the girls have been able to find the positives of their unconventional experience.

“If the quarantine never happened, Ava and Gray would have never been created,” Linnea Jagenberg said. “The hours spent inside gave us the ability to sink all of our time into making this brand successful. [Quarantine] taught us so many lessons on how to be resourceful and think outside the box.”