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Carvel Center agriculture interns
Laura Donahue, at the bench, with Lasher Lab’s Dan Bautista and Billie Jean Wright.

Carvel Center agriculture interns

Photo by Michele Walfred

Networking, tailored experiences a focus of CANR strategic Internships

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

Mark Isaacs, Director of the Elbert N. & 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, headquartered in Columbia S.C., partnered with UD -- an important bridge to new opportunities, Isaacs noted.

Statistically, two jobs are available for every graduate with an ag-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.”

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.

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

For Parker O’Day, a sophomore majoring in Food and Agribusiness Marketing and Management, the chance to learn in-depth marketing skills working with Carvel’s communications specialist was an

Ideal opportunity.  Sponsored by Sussex County Council, O’Day split his summer between mapping the Carvel Center’s campus with a 360-degree camera for a future online virtual tour and developing basic videography and editing skills, in the process creating several YouTube pieces for Carvel and Delaware Cooperative Extension.

“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.”

A rotating internship, also sponsored by Sussex County Council was on tap for Spencer Murray, a senior majoring in Agriculture and Natural Resources and minoring in Animal Science.

Murray and Isaacs planned 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 Production Services (CPS) and worked closely with several extension and research staff based at Carvel throughout the summer. Murray, along with O’Day also spent a day with the Delaware Department of Agriculture and Mid Atlantic Farm Credit. The experience opened career possibilities he had not yet considered.

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

That is the type of revelation Isaacs hopes to hear.

“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.”

“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, Isaacs observes, 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.”

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

Laura Donahue, a pre-veterinary senior is a strong practitioner of networking and has used these skills to line up strategic experiences necessary for a career as a food animal veterinarian. As Donahue approached her senior year, she recognized the need to gain laboratory experience and reached out to Lesa Griffiths, professor in the Department of Food and Animal Science for recommendations. Griffiths pointed her in Isaacs’ direction for opportunities at Lasher Lab.

At Lasher, Donahue worked with the bacterial, serology and PCR labs with lab manager Kim Allen, Afternoons she assisted necropsy cases with Lasher’s veterinarian, Dan Bautista. On Fridays, Donahue typically traveled within the state to work alongside large animal veterinarians.  

Donahue places a high emphasis 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.

Isaacs agrees. 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.

These skills helped Colby Rash, a senior majoring in Agriculture and Natural Resources, land a competitive internship offered by Helena Chemical Company, an allied industry that focuses on crop protection and management. Rash was one of 15 students whittled down from a pool of more than 1,500 applicants.

Traveling within the Mid-Atlantic region, Rash worked closely with growers and industry representatives, troubleshooting crop production issues – everything from variety evaluation, pest management, and nutrient and fertility issues.

Upon graduation, Rash has been invited to return for a second internship and is on track for a promising career with the company.

Rash’s advice to students: “Utilize the professors you have had who you’ve made connections with  - they know a lot of people in the industry and can help you find the internships that suit you the best,”

“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.”

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