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Networking, and tailored experiences a focus of CANR strategic internships

Spencer Murray collecting Palmer Amaranth seed samples with Barbara Scott, associate researcher with Weed Science Program

Four students from the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources began their fall semester enriched from their strategic summer internship experiences.

Mark Isaacs, Director of the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center, coordinated the internships. Isaacs hopes the offerings for internships expand and more students learn about the opportunities available.

The Carvel Center is the college’s southern agriculture experimental station and serves as the staging ground for unique summer work experiences. The 347-acre campus, which includes Sussex Cooperative Extension and Lasher Laboratory, provides an ideal venue for CANR students studying across academic disciplines.

This summer, three of the four internships were sponsored, Isaacs said, a trend he hopes will continue and grow. The Sussex County Council provided funding for two positions. In addition, Helena Chemical Company, which is headquartered in Columbia South Carolina, partnered with UD — an important bridge to new opportunities, Isaacs noted.

The internships are all unique, customized to a workplace experience that suits each student’s goals, or help to identify them.

“We try to tailor the experience,” Isaacs said. “We meet with the student, identify their interest and career path and plan accordingly. If they are uncertain, we set up a rotating schedule to assure broader exposure. All are crafted to build the student’s professional network, showcase career opportunities, and build their professional development. You can’t get that in a classroom.”

Matching the student with the opportunity is a college-wide effort, including ongoing conversations with faculty and staff who assess and recruit the students and help coordinate the summer’s agenda. In some cases, students take the initiative; in others students are recommended by faculty and staff to pursue the internship.

While academic performance is a consideration, it is not the only characteristic that makes students a good fit.  A passion for learning, good communications skills, attention to detail, and a demonstrated work ethic are sought after, Isaacs said.

“We place our students in situations where they have to interact with people on a professional level in fields of study they are interested in,” Isaacs said. “They get to see firsthand the challenges and opportunities these professions deal with on a daily basis.”

Often, the internship experiences hones a student’s academic trajectory. “They discover a new aspect they hadn’t considered before,” Isaacs said. “And in some cases, what they do not want to do becomes clarified.”

Statistically, two jobs are available for every graduate with an agriculture related degree. “It is one of the most tremendously opportunistic career paths a student can have,” Isaacs said. “The chance to build contacts with professionals in these allied industries is a win-win for everyone.”

Intern Profiles

Parker O’Day Working with iMovie and Final Cut Pro, O’Day’s spent the half the summer creating video content for Cooperative Extension.

Parker O’Day, a Food and Agribusiness Marketing and Management sophomore, spent the summer as a communication intern at the Carvel Center. O’Day learned about the opportunity from Tracy Wootten, a Sussex County Extension agent working out of Carvel. Although O’Day had a retail job lined up for the summer, he jumped at the chance to work with agriculture marketing. O’Day received hands-on training in videography and editing, and produced and edited several videos for Extension’s farm succession planning, Delaware Master Gardeners, Extension videos at the Delaware State Fair, and UD’s Weed Science program.

Another comprehensive project took O’Day away from the computer and outside to visually map the Carvel Center’s research plots for a future online virtual tour. O’Day canvased and photographed these plots with a 360 degree camera. Later, he recorded interviews with Extension faculty and specialists about their specific research, overlaying the panoramas with YouTube videos, still photographs, and links to other resources.  When completed, visitors to the web-based tour will have a better understanding of the important research undertaken at the Carvel campus.

“The one thing I was never exposed to and always wondered how it worked was video editing,” O’Day said. “For ag business – on the marketing side of things, this skill will be useful to future employers.”

In addition, Isaacs arranged for O’Day and another intern, Spencer Murray, to meet with Kenny Bounds, Deputy Secretary at the Delaware Department of Agriculture, who provided the interns with an overview of his department and a visit with Mid Atlantic Farm Credit.

Laura Donahue, at the bench with Lasher Lab’s Dan Bautista and Billie Jean Wright

For Laura Donahue, professional networking is a critical component in accomplishing her goal to be a large animal veterinarian. Well before high school, the pre-vet senior mapped out a plan and strategized her experiential portfolio toward that singular goal. Donahue sought diverse experiences, including traveling to Denmark to work with swine, and last summer working with sheep in Iceland. As she approached her senior year at UD, Donahue recognized the need to obtain laboratory and research experience. She reached out to Lesa Griffiths, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, who encouraged Donahue to contact Mark Isaacs about openings at the Lasher Laboratory.  While lab work was not a long-term goal, Donahue wanted to gain experience in a lab. As a summer resident in Delmarva, she realized that the chance to work with poultry in the heart of the industry made sense to round out her experiences.

Monday through Thursdays mornings, Donahue did “bench work” working in Lasher’s bacterial, serology and PCR labs with lab manager Kim Allen and her staff. In the afternoons, she assisted necropsy cases with Dan Bautista, Lasher’s veterinarian. On Fridays, Donahue typically worked alongside large animal veterinarians. She took full advantage working alongside the visiting veterinarians to learn their stories and make valuable contacts.  Donahue places a high value on networking, acknowledging that each person she meets opens a door to a new opportunity. “I got to hear other people’s perspectives, they talk about their careers and what they’ve done – and their advice and input were invaluable,” Donahue said.

Donahue’s internship helped shape her goals to specialize as a food animal veterinarian and address issues of global food insecurity.

Colby Rash, poses with Mark Isaacs who encouraged Rash to apply for the competitive internship with Helena Chemical

Colby Rash, a senior majoring in Agriculture and Natural Resources, was recommended by Isaacs to apply for a competitive internship with Helena Chemical Company, which focuses on crop protection and management. Rash was one of 15 students whittled down from a pool of more than 1,500 applicants. Rash spent the first week at Helena’s headquarters in Columbia, South Carolina  receiving an overview of Helena’s portfolio and career opportunities from upper management, before continuing in their Mifflinville, Pa. location for the remainder of the summer. Rash worked closely with growers and industry representatives, troubleshooting crop production issues – everything from variety evaluation, pest management, and nutrient and fertility issues. His internship often required travel and networking with his fellow interns in Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New York. Isaacs stated, “Wes Page, who came to UD campus to recruit our students, did an excellent job coordinating Colby’s summer experience.” Upon graduation, Rash has been invited to return for a second internship.

Spencer Murray, a senior majoring in Agriculture and Natural Resources and minoring in Animal Science was approached by Mark Isaacs to consider a rotating internship. “It was a perfect opportunity to get my ducks in a row and figure out what I would like to focus on,” said Murray.

Murray and Isaacs mapped out a schedule that included a broad spectrum of agriculture’s allied industries. Murray interacted with agriculture chemical companies such as Monsanto, Helena, Growmark FS, and Crop Protection Services (CPS) and observed that relationship building between the company and the farmer is essential.

Murray worked directly with Carvel’s research and extension staff learning about the poultry industry alongside Georgie Cartanza, state poultry extension agent, and observed precision irrigation technology with James Adkins, associate scientist. Murray also spent time with Barbara Scott and Carvel’s Weed Science team, and experienced the connection between extension and research.

Murray’s advice to students, “No matter what your mind is set on, if you try something new, you may figure out something different you would like to do.”

Isaacs agrees that a good internship serves many purposes, most importantly, students get snapshots into the many careers possible.  “Working toward a career means strategic relationship building. It means learning to be fluid and open with career possibilities and establishing contacts with those that can advise and steer your career options. It means learning how to market yourself by exhibiting skill sets employers look for in their future employees,” Isaacs said.

“Our faculty and staff – we are in constant dialogue about our students and we want them to be successful. My colleagues recognize that a key component is work-based experience,” Isaacs said. “That’s the great thing about our college. We care about the student and placing the student in the right situation to be successful.”

Article by Michele Walfred

Photos by Michele Walfred and Spencer Murray