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Distance learning
by Sara Hoover

From Disney World to the catwalk, from Washington, D.C. to a prestigious opera company, U of M students shine brightly in high-caliber internships.

Internships are great opportunities for students to gain work experience, see if a major fits or clarify career goals. In a competitive job market, students can land positions by having experience in addition to a degree.

During the 2007-2008 academic year, more than 5,100 U of M students put theory into practice by participating in internships for credit.

When you wish upon a star

Kevin Park interned at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center parking lot, the second largest lot in the United States.
Kevin Park interned at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center parking lot, the second largest lot in the United States.
Kevin Park thought it would be cool to live in Florida, so he applied for an internship at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

“What I got out of it was totally beyond that,” says Park, a junior majoring in hospitality and resort management in the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality & Resort Management.

The 21-year-old Bartlett native spent the Fall 2007 semester as an Epcot Center park greeter and parking lot attendant at the second largest parking lot in the United States.

That wasn’t what he had in mind when he checked ‘attractions’ on his application; Park thought he’d be running a ride.

“It was kind of disheartening. I went down there not really expecting or wanting to work in a parking lot. I actually looked beyond that and got to talk to thousands and thousands of people a day. Who gets to do that? Not very many people our age get to do that in their jobs. I gained personal and professional skills working when I was 19 years old.”

The internship, required for Park’s major, was paid and included help with housing and transportation.

“They have apartments for you to live in and they take it out of your paycheck. I didn’t have a car down there, but Disney transportation will take you from the apartment to work, the mall, post office, grocery store and anywhere on Disney property you want to go for free.”

Park worked 35 hours a week at the Happiest Place on Earth along with 2,000 other college interns, after seeing a poster on the U of M campus.

“I met so many people from all over the world. My roommate was from Brazil. That was one of the coolest things. Not only do you get to go down there and work at Walt Disney World, a Fortune 500 company, and talk to thousands of people when you’re in college, you also get to meet people from across the world. A lot of my friends were from China.”

Park, who serves as the University traditions chair for Student Activities Council planning events like Homecoming, hopes to pursue a career in event planning. In addition to being a full-time student, Park is the executive vice president for the Student Ambassador Board, which works closely with the U of M Alumni Association at key University functions.

He is also a campus representative for the Disney College Program and open to returning to work another internship at Disney.

“An internship is a really, really good way to not only get your foot in the door, but to develop more personal and professional skills. Something outside of the classroom, I think, is really important for students to take.”

27 Dresses

U of M alumna Christian Nollner landed an internship and then full-time job with fashion designer Vera Wang in New York City.
U of M alumna Christian Nollner landed an internship and then full-time job with fashion designer Vera Wang in New York City.
As a fashion merchandising major, Christian Nollner (BPS ’08) always wanted to live and work in New York City. When an internship arose at the iconic wedding gown designer Vera Wang’s, Nollner jumped at the opportunity.

“I basically did whatever they wanted me to do, odd jobs. I started out in shipping and receiving, making sure nothing was wrong with the bridesmaid’s dresses.”

Nollner, who graduated last May with a degree in family and consumer sciences in the University College, did an unpaid internship at Vera Wang Maids, the bridesmaid showroom and companion to the Vera Wang Bridal House.

The 23-year-old Memphian was well prepared from her “professional semester.” During the first half, Nollner created projects and developed business plans for Dr. Peggy Quinn’s class before spending the second half at the internship. Quinn is an assistant professor in family and consumer sciences in the University College.

“For about a month, we met every day. She definitely prepared us for the professional world. We had to dress professionally. We did presentations and a mock interview, which really helped. She actually taped it and we watched it, which was kind of scary. That semester was very helpful.”

Nollner, who received class credit and fulfilled the requirement for her major, learned about the internship through a packet of previous intern sites.

“I’ve always been interested in fashion. My first job was at a retail store. Coming to New York and working for Vera Wang, you’d want that on your résumé. I was very excited to do that. I couldn’t even imagine in a million years that I’d be up here.”

Nollner’s eight-week stint helped her better understand the fashion industry and the company.

“A lot of things helped my knowledge of customer service, fashion and what goes in to making a garment. But on top of that, getting to know how the company works from production to the orders. My customer service skills have definitely grown.”

The larger goal of the internship was for Nollner to land a permanent job in the Big Apple, which she did as a bridal stylist at the Vera Wang Bridal House.

“It’s very exciting to work with people who are getting married and their bridal gown, which is one of the most important things of that day.”

Nollner’s character helped her get the internship.

“I think it showed a lot of courage to actually move up to New York City from Memphis to do an unpaid internship. They didn’t offer any housing or board for me. That was a little tough, but I think it spoke volumes.”

The internship provided the perfect springboard for Nollner to land a full-time position with the company.

“It was basically a training, which I didn’t need to do when I was hired (full time). That’s how a lot of companies work with interns, teaching them how the company works so if they do show interest and work hard, you’ve got an employee you’ve basically trained for free, which is good for both of them.”

A change is gonna come

Erica Christensen’s coveted internship is within the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Policy & Analysis Review.
Erica Christensen’s coveted internship is within the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Policy & Analysis Review.
Erica Christensen, a double major in political science and international studies in the College of Arts & Sciences, is doing her internship through the Washington Center, a nonprofit placing college students in D.C. internships.

During the Spring 2009 semester, the Nashville senior is working in the Office of Policy & Analysis Review in the Office of Air & Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The 21-year-old works in the policy sector dealing with domestic and international energy and emissions.

“I will be looking at documents and editing them. There might be a possibility I’d be reading bills and debriefing congressmen before they go and vote.”

The internship is not required but recommended. An EPA placement is highly coveted because of the financial package. They pay for flights, program and housing fees and provide a bi-weekly stipend.

Although Christensen was aware of the Washington Center, she decided not to apply because she had just returned from a semester abroad in Finland.

“I thought it would be better if I stayed in Memphis for my last semester, but both of my advisers said I should apply. I wasn’t really excited at first,” says Christensen, still coming off her travel high.

“Then I talked to my dad, and he was like, ‘It’s a great opportunity. You can make thousands of connections in D.C.’ That’s where all the important people in my career path are going to be. I’m glad I applied, and it’s turned out much better than I could have imagined.”

Christensen is no stranger to internships. She did an unpaid one with a political campaign and had a paid summer position with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. She hopes to gain something different this time.

“I’ve worked in political campaigns and small environmental nonprofits so I’ve seen that aspect of policy. The EPA is offering another side. I want to see what it’s like on the policy-creating side.”

Christensen will receive class credit and is taking a course while in D.C., but hopes to learn more than book smarts.

“I want to learn diplomatic behavior and gain a level of professionalism in the political sphere. I took an environmental law class and it was really disheartening to see the disjunction between policymakers, lawmakers and scientists. [I saw] how lots of times policy is not made for the greater good, but for the greatest political relief at the moment. So I’m hoping it will be different.”

Christensen plans to attend graduate school in global environmental policy or urban planning. She believes this experience will shape her career path.

“It’s all pretty exciting. To be working for the EPA at such a young age. I never considered I would ever get a high position like this. Plus, it’ll be cool to see the transition change with Obama in office. That’s really, really exciting. I can say how I saw it changed because I worked in a federal office.”

Everything but the walls

After 17 internship offers, Molly Allen Watson chose Colorado’s Central City Opera Company, the fifth-oldest opera company in the U.S.
After 17 internship offers, Molly Allen Watson chose Colorado’s Central City Opera Company, the fifth-oldest opera company in the U.S.
Sophomore Molly Allen Watson spent her summer at Colorado’s Central City Opera Company. They paid her travel, rent and utilities, provided a weekly paycheck and eight-hour workdays.

“A lot of internships don’t pay and you work 20-hour days,” says the theatre major in the College of Communication and Fine Arts.

As intern, Watson made props and furniture.

“[I made] everything except the walls. I made a giant mosquito net, period paint cans and cigarette packs.”

The Franklin, Tenn., native was most proud of a spinning wheel.

“I actually made it work. Usually, we make things look like they work. That was my hardest project.”

Because she had prop firearms experience, Watson trained actors in using weapons.

“I made switchblades and dulled them to where no one hurt themselves.”

The 19-year-old participated not only because it was required and for class credit, but to work professionally.

“You can learn only so much in the classroom. You have to learn from other people and new challenges. I’ve never been to Colorado. I don’t think I ever would have made it out there if it hadn’t been for this internship. I made great relationships with people who want to work with me again.”

Watson was invited back this summer.

Her other duties included moving furniture to the artists’ houses, ushering shows in period costumes and cleaning the opera house.

“If houses needed repairs and the handyman wasn’t around, I had to do it. I chased a raccoon from a house and fixed a heating system.”

She also learned how to negotiate contracts, work with different personalities, and “actor proof.”

“Actor proofing is a term dangerously similar to child-proofing. You’re going to work with actors who break everything and you have to make 18 just in case something gets broken. It’s proofing so no one gets hurt.”

The experience highlighted the professional life versus academia.

“It’s not as ‘sink or swim’ in the educational environment because if you can’t get it done, you always have somebody else there to do it. Your professor will pick up the slack. In a professional environment, if you don’t get the job done, they go on with the show.”

Watson also wanted to prove herself in a male-dominated field.

“They do not expect much of women with a power tool.”

The prop shop was all female.

“Our stagehand crew was all male and older. They looked at us as little girls under 30 like, ‘What do you know?’ Proving to them was far more difficult and important than proving to my professors that I could hold my own.”

Watson recommends internships.

“It’s imperative. You cannot think, ‘I’m going to work as a professional because I went to college.’ You’re truly naïve if you think that. It’s so different from an educational environment. The University should require it for all majors. It’s application in the real world.”

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