First-hand learning: Internships central to skill and career development

First-hand learning: Internships central to skill and career development

For many college students, internships are a vital way to gain skills and knowledge beyond their academic studies. And the benefits of interning for life after graduation are clear: more job offers, less unemployment and higher wages.

Scores of University of Tulsa students joined their peers from across the country in seeking out interesting and relevant internships this summer. In this story, you’ll meet three of them whose educational pathways are different but who all thrived during their experiential learning opportunities.

What does it take to be a great lawyer?

young woman with long hair wearing a blue Tulsa soccer uniform with the number 27 on the front of the jerseyIn addition to playing on TU’s women’s soccer team, Lauren Fallis (Class of ’24) is pursuing a bachelor’s in biology. Given Fallis’ major, one might be surprised to learn her internship was with the Office of the Attorney General of Missouri back in her hometown of Kansas City.

Fallis’ internship, however, was an expression of her long-held desire to one day attend law school and it drew on a foundation she is setting with minors in law, policy and social justice and psychology. “After lots of online searching, I discovered the attorney general of Missouri’s office has a wonderful internship program for undergraduates,” Fallis recalled. “I sent off a resume and cover letter, landed an interview and was thrilled to receive an offer to join the program. It was an exciting process as well as great practice for future job interviews.”

According to Fallis, her main role this summer was “to learn as much as possible about what it takes to be a great lawyer.” In addition to “fantastic mentors” who carefully instructed her and whom she was able to observe in action, Fallis was able to attend trials, edit case documents and make connections with lawyers and judges.

The highlight of the internship was the various field trips made available to Fallis and the other interns. On one excursion, they visited the Missouri Supreme Court and spoke with judges over lunch. On another, they met with judges working in the federal courthouse. Fallis and another intern also received an in-depth tour of a prison and she was able to get a first-hand introduction to the state’s crime lab, an experience that brought together Fallis’ love of both science and law. “These opportunities were equally as important to me as the projects I worked on in the office setting,” she noted.

So, did this internship confirm for Fallis that the law is the right field for her? “It one hundred percent did that,” she said. “In addition to building my resume, I gained skills that will be valuable both for applying to law school as well as when I’m a law student. I am so grateful for this opportunity.”

The chemistry of manufacturing

Chemical engineering rising senior Tanner Phillips (Class of ’23) spent a good part of his final undergraduate summer working as a co-op engineer at the IFF nutrition and biosciences plant in Pryor, Oklahoma. “The main thing that drew me to this position was my interest in the manufacturing industry,” Phillips said. “In particular, I wanted a first-hand understanding of how chemical engineering could be applied within manufacturing.”

young man wearing a white safety helmet and high-visibility yellow vest seated in a giant red chair giving the thumbs up signalPhillips applied for the internship by submitting a resume and academic transcript via Handshake, an online recruiting platform offered by CaneCareers. From there, he had two interviews. The first was with a process engineering consultant and a mechanical reliability engineer. Making it over that hurdle, Phillips then met with the Pryor site’s manufacturing technology engineering manager. Et voilà: IFF invited him to come on board.

For this co-op, Phillips focused on the creation and manufacture of isolate soy protein products. “I learned about so much,” reported Phillips: “solids handling; unit operations, such as spray dryers, conveyors and grinders; as well as engineering equipment, such as centrifuges, vacuumizer tanks and slurry tanks.” A major part of this experience also entailed developing new skills, including the ability to code in VBA in Excel, and mastering software packages, such as Aspen Process Explorer, SAP and Honeywell Control Screens.

When it came to the actual work he carried out, a good deal of Phillips’ time was spent running root-cause failure analysis meetings with other engineering disciplines and operators, calculating the amount of Grade A product the Pryor site produces using SAP and a programmed FPFQY calculator, and various other projects his co-op manager assigned.

Reflecting on his summer with IFF, Phillips is certain he is now better prepared for a career in chemical engineering: “I got to see how engineers go about solving and troubleshooting daily problems. And I saw how my coursework applies to the solids-handling side of the discipline. Working alongside and interacting with diverse engineering disciplines, operators, environmental specialists and lab analysts was nothing short of amazing.”

Core values

young woman with dark hair and glasses smiling while wearing a black blouseAt the midpoint of her undergraduate years, Brittany Banh (Class of ’24) had an opportunity to intern with one of Oklahoma’s most respected and impactful nonprofits: Domestic Violence Intervention Services (DVIS). Working for an organization that provides advocacy, shelter, counseling and education for people who have suffered domestic violence and assault was a natural fit for someone who is double-majoring in women’s and gender studies and psychology, while completing a minor in early intervention. “I was interested in DVIS specifically because I felt their core values aligned with mine and because I am interested in pursuing a career in counseling,” noted Banh.

Getting involved with DVIS came about through the George Kaiser Family Foundation Summer Impact Program. This nine-week program enables interns to learn from some of Tulsa’s most effective community organizations while gaining exposure to the intersection of policy, philanthropy, business and community engagement.

The first step in securing this opportunity was to complete an online application. Banh followed that up by emailing the program manager to ask questions and demonstrate her engagement. “I’m not sure whether that extra step helped me get my foot in the door,” said Banh, “but I enjoyed making the connection and learning more.”

Chosen as a participant, Banh was placed at DVIS. Throughout the summer, she worked on a variety of projects. Her main one was a website audit, which involved assessing the content of the DVIS website in terms of its accuracy and how helpful it was for clients. “I was really intentional about making the website user friendly for people who might be in a crisis or navigating a trauma,” remarked Banh. “Taking that perspective informed the places I looked for resources and information to include about domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, reproductive coercion and stalking.”

Other website-related tasks included making its language more gender neutral so that it would be more representative of DVIS clients and conducting research on statistics relating to interpersonal violence and how factors such as race, religion, sexuality, gender identity, immigration status, age and ability can impact survivors of violence. “DVIS’ key values include anti-oppression, equity and inclusion,” Banh explained. “I wanted to be as intentional as possible when it came to acknowledging systemic issues that create obstacles when it comes to fleeing domestic violence or reporting sexual assault.” In this regard, one of the sections she is most proud of having developed is the Anti-Oppression and Identity page.

A highlight of Banh’s internship was the opportunity to meet with counselors and advocates who possessed expertise in various relevant subjects. One of the benefits was the light it shed on how a person might make a client-facing career in the nonprofit sector. “It became evident to me that there isn’t a linear path to a single career,” Banh noted. But after her time with DVIS, she feels even more eager to pursue a career in counseling.

“I admire DVIS’ work so much,” said Banh, “and I am proud to say that I had a chance to work with the organization. In fact, I’m now looking forward to volunteering with them.”


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