Working It

by Camille Rogers

In days not so long ago, an internship ranked as a rare plum on a student”s resume, a unique and coveted experience that few could claim.

Not anymore. According to a recent survey by the CALS Office of Undergraduate Programs and Services, 43 percent of students who graduated from the college last spring had completed at least one internship before earning their degrees. And that number is bound to climb as the college ramps up efforts to connect students with internship opportunities. Christina Klawitter, CALS’ outgoing director of career services, says interest in internship opportunities is rising among both students and employers.

“I see students interning everywhere from small, family-owned farms to multinational companies and everything in-between,” says Klawitter, who helped build up the internship program before accepting another campus job in October.

For students, an internship can connect classwork with real-life experience in meaningful ways, offering a chance to hone professional interests and gain contacts in a student”s chosen field. Participation in an internship can also earn students course credit, pay or both. And for employers, interns can bring a fresh perspective and a needed hand to take on neglected projects.

“To me, internships are win-win-win: good for the companies, good for the universities and good for the students,” says Klawitter.

To explore the range and diversity of internship opportunities, we interviewed three current CALS students about their recent internship experiences. Here are their stories:

Josh Burling

Growing up in rural Cumberland, Wis., Josh Burling knew he wanted a career to fit his lifestyle.

“I really like being outside and being active,” he says. “I grew up outdoors, doing a lot of hunting and fishing.”

At CALS, Burling opted to major in forest and wildlife ecology, but he felt textbook knowledge wouldn’t be enough to qualify him for a career in forestry. So when he saw a flyer advertising an internship with Nicolet Hardwoods, a 100-year-old, family-owned business headquartered in Laona, he jumped at the chance.

During the summer internship, sponsored by the David N. Connor family, Burling spent 11 weeks learning every aspect of the timber industry in the Northwoods. “I was kind of the guinea pig. This was the first time they had set this internship up so I was the only one,” he says. Burling spent time shadowing Steve Guthrie, a veteran forester with more than 30 years of experience, who helped Burling learn things such as timber cruising and log scaling. Burling saw the full scale of Nicolet’s operation, from forest to mill.

“It gave me good real-world experience with the economics of the wood industry and how the market affects what you’re doing in the field,” he says.

Chelsea Cervantes

For Chelsea Cervantes, two semesters of Arabic ignited a passion to study in the Middle East. The only question was how to get there.

Cervantes, a double major in soil science and agricultural and applied economics, sought out study-abroad and international research opportunities, but at the time, she was only a sophomore, with limited coursework and research under her belt. She wasn”t able to land one of the competitive slots.

But Cervantes was undaunted. If she couldn’t sign on with someone else’s program, she decided to develop her own. She began corresponding with a professor in Jordan, who eventually extended an invitation to come work with him at the German Protestant Institute of Archeology. There, Cervantes worked on a wetland irrigation project, testing water purification and sanitation for agricultural purposes.

“In Jordan, water is very scarce,” she says. “Jordan is a perfect place for irrigation work.”

Cervantes’s hopes that she can use her connections at the GPIA to apply for another international internship next summer.” It actually created more opportunities than I ever imagined,” she says of her internship. She plans to use her experience with the wetland irrigation project as the basis of her thesis to gain a certificate in Arabic studies. Meanwhile, she is now on to another internship-this time, closer to home-with The Bruce Company, where she is working on irrigation projects for the landscaping business. She would eventually like to do more research in soil and water management or work for an international water management company.

But the real lesson Cervantes gained from her international experience is to never give up. “I got this internship through a lot of perseverance and by being aggressive,” she says. “I wanted it so bad. I knew if I created this opportunity I would have so many doors opened for me.”

Julie Feld

Not many students can claim to have improved the quality of undergarments. Thanks to a six-month internship at Neenah-based Kimberly-Clark, Julie Feld can.

Feld, a senior biological systems engineering major, worked with Kimberly-Clark”s research and development team to evaluate modified versions of the company”s Depends brand of adult undergarments. Her team ran quality control tests and made recommendations for improvements, giving Feld a unique perspective on product development.

Feld’s positive experience at Kimberly-Clark inspired her to seek out another internship. This past summer, she worked with multinational company 3M, where she helped usher a product from research and development on to production. Feld created a database to store and organize information the team needed to move the process along.

While her internships at Kimberly-Clark and 3M allowed Feld to study process and production, they also helped her network and improve her communication skills. “I was able to work with people from several areas of both companies, from R&D to plant managers to corporate managers,” she says. “Both jobs required a final presentation, so I was also able to improve my public speaking skills and learned how to communicate my work to others.”

With graduation on the horizon, Feld is hoping that having two internships on her resume will help her once she enters the job market. She hopes to work in research and development, specifically with consumer food products.

“(Interning) helps me to know what I want to do post-graduation, and makes me a more well-rounded candidate,” she says.