Great internship programs provide students with skills they can take into the workforce and companies with new ideas and fresh perspectives. Seed World sits down with two interns to discover what characteristics comprise a great internship.
Sure, you can hire an intern to make coffee, print copies and enter data, but that’s not likely to benefit the student or your company. Taking the time to create a top-notch internship program not only invests in the future of the industry, but can also be beneficial for the company, today and into the future.
Savannah Steinke, a 20-year old Purdue University agricultural sales and marketing student from Rensselaer, Ind., just wrapped up her first summer internship where she focused on design, marketing and branding at Dow AgroSciences.
Steinke says the most important skill she has learned during the internship is project management. “I’ve learned to manage multiple projects at one time, how to meet deadlines and how to execute a strategy,” she says. “Dow has made this a unique opportunity for me because they’ve encouraged my personal growth and tailored projects to my personal interests.
“For example, I’m a 10-year 4-Her and have a strong passion for the agriculture industry, and they let me create the design that appeared on buttons given to farmers at the Indiana State Fair.”
Heidi Darrington, a 20-year old Iowa State University agricultural communications student from Underwood, Iowa, also had a successful internship at DuPont Pioneer. She served as visitor and stakeholder outreach intern in Johnston, Iowa. Darrington says the most valuable skill she learned through the internship was time management.
“My primary responsibility was to facilitate custom visits for international groups, customers and students,” Darrington says. “We had requests coming in everyday for groups of all different sizes, and I had to coordinate with people in marketing, sales and agronomy to make sure everyone was prepared and knew what to expect. They really pushed my limits to see how far I could go.”
For companies looking to take their internship programs to the next level or that are just getting started, Steinke and Darrington have a few tips.
“Companies should have a training program at the start to give students the opportunity to learn about the industry, the company and its products,” Steinke says.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), holding an orientation is one of the top five best practices for internship programs. Orientation ensures that everyone starts with the same expectations and role definitions.
This is also the time where management and the interns sit down to understand each other and set goals.
Additionally, interns should be given their own projects. Darrington says when looking for an internship, she didn’t want to be doing mundane tasks. One of her last projects was to host and manage a 170-person conference, where she worked to coordinate the details from start to finish.
“Let the intern take initiative on different assigned projects,” Steinke adds. “Encourage the intern to make the project his or her own and to come back to the company or manager with ideas. Being able to take ownership of something is a valuable experience and very rewarding.”
Giving interns responsibility or “real work assignments” is also a best management practice.
“Providing interns with real work is No. 1 to ensuring your program’s success,” according to NACE. “Interns should be doing work related to their major, that is challenging, that is recognized by the organization as valuable and that fills the entire work term.”
Steinke says students bring a youthful, creative and different perspective to companies. Kenda Resler-Friend, Dow AgroSciences external communications and media relations leader, has worked closely with Steinke during her internship. “Savannah’s energy and ideas are refreshing,” Resler-Friend says. “We’ve gained insights from her that brought new ways to look at our outreach.”
As a business or manager, the primary objectives are to effectively manage workflow to accomplish immediate goals and to find new team members to help grow the business and accomplish long-term goals. Elevating your internship program can meet both of those needs simultaneously. According to a 2009 NACE Experiential Education Survey, 35.3 percent of employers’ fulltime entry-level college hires came from their internship programs.