There’s no doubt University of Denver students learn a lot in the classroom. But savvy students know that taking that classroom experience into the real world is a great way to boost a resumé and to explore career options.
Students look for internships in a variety of ways, but many utilize DU’s Office of Career Services, which maintains a list of internship opportunities. It also offers a limited number of awards each summer so students can take unpaid internships without having to juggle a second job on the side.
“Many students work at summer jobs to earn money rather than take internships that would further their career development,” says John Haag, internship director in DU’s Career Center. “The awards allow deserving students to intern in situations that matter to their future.”
A special committee chooses students they expect to grow professionally and personally throughout the course of the internship, explains Ruth Prochnow, who runs the award program. More than 50 students apply each year.
Erin Husi, a senior environmental science and international studies double major, was one of last year’s award recipients. She used the money to pay bills while she worked an unpaid internship at Sprout City Farms, a Denver-based nonprofit that cultivates urban farms on underutilized land. She encourages her fellow students to follow her lead.
“Don’t be afraid to look for what you really want to do,” she says. “My biggest fear in life is settling. So many students settle [with their internships] and take what they can get. Doing what you love to do is priceless. Make it happen, and it’s totally worth it. Doing an awesome unpaid internship is so much better than doing something paid that you’re miserable in.”
The internship program is a “win-win for both the student and for the organization,” Prochnow notes. Students have worked in locations ranging from Denver and Duluth, Minn., to Kuwait and Kenya. “It gives them much better focus on where they do or do not want to take their careers,” she says.
Not to mention giving them an edge in a tough job market that’s making internships more desirable than ever. Students with internship experience “undeniably” are more employable when they graduate, Prochnow says. “Internships are the new entry-level jobs.”
We talked to Husi and four other students who took internships in summer 2013 —
here’s a look at their experiences, in their own words.
Intern: Alex Shefrin, sophomore international business major
Employer: The office of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
What he did: I worked in the Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships. They do a lot of the homeless initiatives and work with kids and stuff like that. There’s a nonprofit in Denver called Concerts for Kids that puts on an event every year on the 16th Street Mall called the Denver Day of Rock, and they wanted some data analysis on it. I was the only business student, so I got that project. Basically, I had to go to all of the restaurants up and down the mall and look at their numbers — how many more people came in that day — and any business suggestions that they had, ways they could improve the Denver Day of Rock so it could be better next year.
What he liked: Almost everything I learned at Daniels I was able to apply during this internship. It really drove home the point of how much I actually like business. On the Denver Day of Rock project, I gave them two or three pages of advice and they just wanted numbers. They called me back and said, “This is awesome; you’re doing way more than what we asked for.” That was a highlight of the summer.
Intern: Erin Husi, senior environmental science and international studies double major
Employer: Sprout City Farms, a Denver-based nonprofit that cultivates urban farms on underutilized land, rooting community farms in the city and bringing good food to neighborhoods
What she did: I interned at Sprout City Farms’ acre of land located behind the Denver Green School. I worked 20 hours a week doing farm maintenance and marketing and planning and coordinating events. For instance, we had a “weed dating” event where people got to meet like-minded people while weeding our beds. It was very cute. I made the posters and helped set up. I also helped teach kids about gardening.
What she liked: I love being outside. I learned so much about plants and farming. I love watching kids getting engaged. I had a high school boy in the garden with me, and he had a revelation that the garden could feed a whole community. I love witnessing that kind of breakthrough, where someone becomes passionate about this.
Her dream job: I want to work in urban development. I want to integrate farms into urban planning for sustainability and aesthetic reasons. I might work through the city or through a private development company. It was important to me to work in a farm now because I didn’t want to be telling people to farm if I hadn’t been a farmer myself.
Intern: Tory Rust, senior strategic communications major
Employer: Fashion Denver, an organization that helps local designers build networks, create business relationships and share their passion for fashion
What she did: I helped run the Fashion Denver Facebook page, designed work for posters, took and edited photos and helped plan events. I worked with the owner to support her work at fashion shows, product launches and other projects.
What she liked: I loved the people I got to meet — up-and-coming designers, people who have quit their day jobs to do what they want to do. It’s useful to see someone who runs her own business. I work well on my own, so I have a good role model for my future.
Intern: Aspen Matthews, senior management major
Employer: Save the Manatee Club, a Florida-based national nonprofit and membership-based organization that aims to protect endangered manatees and their aquatic habitat
What she did: I worked under the staff biologist and the director of development. They had just installed webcams to watch manatees, so I categorized manatee behaviors, and I edited the clips to be used for educational and promotional purposes. I also helped with donor outreach and renewal letters.
What she liked: I loved knowing I was making a difference by promoting awareness about an endangered species and the need for habitat protection. On a professional level, I participated in all of the components that go into making a nonprofit successful —research, financials and reaching out to donors and members. I had the opportunity to see the whole picture instead of just the end product.
Her dream job: I’d like to be executive director of a nonprofit with an environmental mission. In this internship I definitely saw what it takes to run a nonprofit. I also got insights into employee relationships and how to manage people.
Intern: Katie Turley, senior vocal performance major
Employer: Inspire Creative, a nonprofit theater company in Parker, Colo.
What she did: I worked two shows with Inspire: “Aladdin,” a kids’ production, and an adult production of “The Producers.” I had a couple of roles throughout my internship, one of which was to be part of the stage crew. I was responsible for moving set pieces and props for each scene change with the help of other crew members. My main role, however, was prop master for “The Producers.” I was in charge of collecting all of the props for the show. At first glance all of the things on my list seemed easy enough to find, but a couple of items sent me all over Denver and in and out of many Goodwill stores and other thrift shops.
What she liked: It was a blast working with so many talented actors and such a dedicated crew. “The Producers” was such a fun show to be a part of, and it presented many challenges for everyone involved, which made us all work together day after day to produce an amazing show.