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CAFES internships in strong supply despite economy

November 19, 2009

Finding a job is becoming a more difficult task for some students due to the economy, but the internship opportunities in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) are still reaching far and wide.

The internship program in CAFES is a hands-on, practical experience in which students work with a variety of agricultural employers ranging from government agencies such as the DNR and municipalities to pollution control, the Environmental Protection Agency, and even non-profit organizations and private sectors. Students are placed in programs dealing with animal science, environmental science, plant breeding, engineering technology, nursery production and landscape design, to name a few.

Director of the CAFES internship program Terry Ferriss said she’s noticed a change in employers’ selections, but there has not been a decline in the number of internships offered.

“Employers are being more thoughtful and deliberate in setting up an internship, but I haven’t seen a decline within the sectors,” Ferriss said.

She added that one company that recently cut their internship program admitted that it was the biggest mistake they could have made.

According to Ferriss, 99 percent of the internships offered are paid. The small percentage that are unpaid typically include zoos and some chambers of commerce. Students interested in internships in CAFES meet with one of the 11 faculty coordinators in their chosen discipline. The faculty coordinators determine the students previous experience and career goals and what areas need to be strengthened for graduation preparation. Some students stay local with their internships, others move out into the five state region, and some go throughout the United States or even overseas.

Cheryl Dintemann, the internship program assistant, stated that the internship office posts opportunities, but they also look for new opportunities both on their own and at the request of students.

“Faculty coordinators within the internship program are a great resource for finding internships because they have great industry contacts,” Dintemann said.

Ferriss added that most of the internships last year were requested.

“Of all interns placed last year, which was a little over 100 students, 80 percent were not posted as available positions,” she said.

She said students identified companies they wanted to work with and worked to set up an interview. The faculty coordinators know of companies willing to take on an intern, even if the position is not posted. Ferriss also said she’s noticed that employers are inquiring about interns earlier than previous years. Companies are willing to take interns to fill temporary positions rather than hiring full-time employees. It gives quality support and an opportunity for a long interview process without a full-time commitment. Interns are given more responsibility than regular summer employees, according to Ferriss. They are given projects to complete as a requirement for the internship, and interns are allowed to demonstrate that they can follow through with the responsibilities.

Both Dintemann and Ferriss said there is a lot of competition for internships, so students need to show initiative to get an internship.

“It’ll be the student who wants to be out there [that will be selected],” Ferriss said.

“A good resume and interview skills are always helpful when applying for internships,” Dintemann said. “Interview experience is always helpful, and we have numerous companies that interview in the CAFES Internship Program office every year.”

Jake Dums applied for two internships, and was accepted at Ohio State University to work in the tomato genetics lab.

“I was assigned to find a gene that gave resistance to bacterial spots in tomatoes. The job involved a lot of PCR, gel electrophoresis and analysis. The whole point of the job was really a puzzle and I was trying to find where this one piece fit into the puzzle,” Dums said.

Dums said he learned a lot from the internship, including what it was like to live 700 miles away from home. He said he met new people in the lab and gained a lot of work experience. The most important thing gained, according to Dums, was focus.

“After my internship I was able to narrow down what I wanted to do with my life. That was probably the most satisfying part of the summer,” he said.

Senior Nikki Beucler spent this past summer working as the Polk County 4-H summer intern in Balsam Lake, Wis. Her responsibilities included working with the 4-H agent in Polk County on different events over the summer such
as 4-H camp, dog shows, plant science day, county fair and clover bud exploring day. She had one special project which was the music, drama and dance review that she set up herself.

Beucler said she gained two main skills: organization and communication.

“Without those two elements, I would not have succeeded. Being organized in an office environment is crucial to the success of the events that you plan,” she said.

Both Beucler and Dums said they encourage students to apply for internships because of the work experience a student can gain.To apply for an internship in the CAFES internship program, a student must have completed 30 credits and maintain a 2.0 GPA. The summer after freshman year is typically the earliest a student will be able to meet these requirements. According to Ferriss, early internships help motivate students and help them find what they want to get out of their classes.

“Be flexible in where you’re willing to go,” Ferriss said. “If you want a permanent job with a local company, getting experience elsewhere opens you up to a new set of ideas and you bring back more. You strengthen the local base.”