Why do a Student Internship in Geography?  
Read about the experiences of our recent Student Interns in Geography, followed below by advice on how to obtain an internship.
Here is a great article from About.com on Geography internships.

Return to Professor Bertolas' Home Page.       Return to Geography Internship GEO 497.

Hi, I’m Chelsea Schrage.  I interned during summer 2011 at the Bighorn National Forest Visitor Center.  The Bighorn Mountains are located in north-central Wyoming and are a sister range of the Rocky Mountains.  The best part of my job was talking with, and answering questions from, visitors who came from around the world to visit the Bighorn Mountains on their way to Yellowstone National Park.

Hi, I’m Becky Hafer.  I interned during the spring semester of 2011 at National Geographic Society headquarters in downtown Washington D.C.  This internship was very competitive and I worked alongside students from Penn State, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Texas Tech, and Wyoming.  I met people from throughout the world who came to share their research with National Geographic.  My primary duties focused on assisting with National Geographic Education programs, known worldwide for their quality.  The opportunities I had at Wayne State college to tutor, travel, study, and serve as an organization officer were critical to my landing this internship!

Hi, I'm Whitnea Cline.  In the summer of 2008, I interned at Downtown West Newton, Inc. near Pittsburgh.  My internship focused on developing tourism in the suburb of West Newton.  I helped develop and conduct surveys of visitors who utilize the Great Allegheny Passage Trail.  Using the collected data, we interpreted the information in order to create marketing materials that emphasize the tourism highlights of the area.  Most importantly, we engaged the local townspeople in taking greater responsibility for promoting their community.  Best of all, I got written up in the local newspaper!

Hi, I’m Heather Hegi.  I worked for the State of South Dakota Intern Program in the Wildlife Division of the Department of Game, Fish, and Parks.  My main task was to update the Hunting Atlas for the State of SD which comes out every year.  I enjoyed my time in Pierre where I received hands-on, real world experience using ArcMap software which allowed me to create and edit maps.  My internship gave me real responsibility, help in developing job skills, and valuable experience toward future employment.  I would encourage anyone to apply for an internship.

Hi, I’m Marisa Hingst.  I interned with my employer, Michael Foods in Wakefield, NE.  My goal was to learn more about formal environmental management systems in the industrial world.  I received on-the-job instruction in food processing practices, soil sampling for manure and egg-shell application sites, and proper soil nutrient management practices and laws specific to our by-product wastes. Everything I did was designed to make me better at my job, so my employer was happy to cooperate.  I now have a much better understanding of capital project considerations.

Hi, I'm Seth Poldberg.   In the spring of 2007, I accepted an internship with U.S. Senator Charles Grassley-R, IA.  I worked on Senator Grassley's staff at the Hart Senate Building in Washington, D.C. from January 8th to the end of May.  Thousands applied and only 5 interns were chosen.  I was a December 2006 graduate of WSC with a Field Endorsement in Social Sciences Education.

Hi, I'm Brian Bruckner.  I spent the summer of 2006 as an Assistant to the Director of Woodbury County Rural Economic Development Office in Sioux City, IA.  I originally became interested in the work that the county was doing to breathe economic life into rural areas through real estate tax rebates and by fostering the creation of local demand for organically grown farm products.  I set up my internship by directly contacting the Director of the county department.  Though lacking a formal internship program, they were willing to put me on staff for the summer because--with a background in farming--I came across as passionate about the issues and convinced them that I could make a valuable contribution to the department's efforts.

Hi, I'm Phil Heimann.  In the spring of 2005 I interned with the City Inspector's Office in the Wayne Municipal Building.  I learned to use AutoCad and to work with city block data.  There is absolutely no substitute for "hands on" experience and I'm proud to feature it on my resume.  I enjoyed this experience so much that I undertook a second internship for the summer of 2005 at Jewel Cave National Monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota where I worked as a tour guide.

Hi, I'm Jamie Petersen.  In the summer of 2004 I interned at the National Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Florida.  I worked as a natural resource manager to keep the sanctuary’s wildlife and plants protected, and also as a boardwalk naturalist educating others about the swamp.  My duties included using GPS and mapping software to plot out the sanctuary’s burn units.  I had been told time after time that an internship is one of the best ways to land a job, especially by Dr. Bertolas, but I did not truly understand why until now.  During the Spring 2005 semester, I did a second internship--this one in Omaha at Applied Data Consultants.  Today, I work full-time for ADC as a GIS Analyst.  I just want to say thanks, Dr. Bertolas, for pushing the idea of getting an internship and stressing the importance of gaining experience and networking.  It really paid off for me.

Hi, I'm Ted Gibson.  In the summer of 2003, I interned for Applied Data Consultants.  Interestingly, I obtained my internship by directly calling ADC and asking if I could submit my credentials.  To my surprise, I got a phone interview and, later, a paying summer position at the ADC branch office in Eau Claire, WI.  My duties involved helping out on a variety of projects for ADC's clients.

Hi, I'm Katie Kruger.  I worked as a paid intern for the Nebraska Department of Roads during the summer of 2003.  My duties included remapping the Lincoln city limits, plotting new roads on maps of various Nebraska cities, and creating a database of information regarding highway intersections.  Finding an internship was a challenge but, in the long run, it was worth it.

Hi, I'm Matt Tobias.  I worked as an intern in the Fiber Optics Department for South Sioux City, Nebraska.  I learned about GPS technology and how to integrate it with advanced ArcView software in order to map the utility system in the Greater South Sioux City area.  My internship was a wonderful experience that I enjoyed tremendously.

Hi, I'm Curt Becker.  After graduating with a degree in Geography from WSC, I spent much of 2002 as a Water Resources Intern with the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District.  I have studied to become certified as a water well monitoring technician and learned how to use advanced ArcView software.  I collected water samples from wells throughout the district, concentrating on irrigation wells and their nitrate levels.  Eventually, I produced maps dealing with water quality and water levels.  It was a fantastic experience to be working alongside professionals and using my Geography training.

Hi, I'm Beau Denker.  I worked for the South Dakota state government's Executive Intern Program in Pierre, South Dakota during the summer of 2002 and loved my internship.  I used ArcView GIS to create Ground Water Quality layouts of source water wells.  I also did susceptibility analysis for potential contaminant sources, and conducted field work in the Black Hills.  My internship kept me very busy, but I learned so much and really enjoyed the work.

Hi, I'm Nate Dougherty.  I spent the summer of 2002 as an intern in the Crime Mapping Analysis Lab at the Omaha Police Department.  The position called for extensive use of Geographic Information Systems and I learned a great deal while "on-the-job."  My workload included designing precinct maps, geocoding addresses, and linking suspects to crime scenes.  I really used the GIS skills I learned at WSC, and it was great!

Hi, I'm Jon Kuddes.  I worked for the National Weather Service in Valley, NE during the summer of 2001.  I plotted data related to weather systems moving through the Platte River valley.  Internships are a valuable experience that goes far beyond the classroom.  With an internship, a student can get first hand experience with the help of professionals in that field.  This allows a student to learn about his/her field of study and get a taste of the real world as well as future job opportunities.  I absolutely loved my time as an intern.

 Advice for Obtaining Student Internships

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What are internships?
Although definitions vary, basically the student works outside the traditional academic environment to gain practical job experience and extend his/her learning to a new setting.  The term covers co-ops, temporary projects and some full- or part-time jobs, whether they last for one semester or for the academic year.  In all of these cases, the student can receive academic credit for job-related research.  Some organizations provide at least a nominal salary to students, but interns can also volunteer their time.  It is up to you and the organization which sponsors your internship to agree on your actual duties, compensation, hours, etc.  Keep in mind, however, most internships do not pay or provide living expenses, though you may find some that do.

Where can I find internships?
Start by checking with the Geography Program Area for a current list of contacts and position announcements.  Another resource is your fellow students who are or have participated in internships, so find out how they went about getting their positions.

Wayne State College’s Career Placement Center is a great place to expand your list of possible contacts and counselors may have valuable suggestions.  Remember, some summer or part-time jobs can qualify as internships.  Don't get discouraged if you don't find many internships earmarked for "Geographers" -- rarely are notices that specific.  Descriptions of the duties involved give you a much better idea of whether you have the knowledge required for the position.

Another place to look for internship information is at your local public or college library.  Try The Internship Bible and The Princeton Review which list thousands of opportunities.  The Work Study and Student Employment Offices are also sources for job notices that may fall under the category of Geography.

Can I find out about internships through the Internet?
You betcha!  The Internet is an excellent tool to use in your efforts to locate an internship.  Possible web sites to begin your search might include the following:

Monster Trak allows you to search the Internet for internship opportunities (registration required).

Applied Data Consultants is one of the largest GIS firms in the Midwest, and occasionally accept internship applications, though they rarely advertise positions..

Student Conservation Association (SCA) provides conservation service internships and volunteer opportunities in National Parks, Forests and other public lands.

Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) administers many internship programs at government centers across the country, including the internship program at the USGS EROS Data Center in Sioux Falls, SD.  To see if they have any internships available (and to apply online--have your resume ready to copy and paste in digital form) simply go to their site and click on Find Your Job, Location, South Dakota, and then see if any internships are currently available in Sioux Falls.  They update available positions regularly. 

Wetfeet.com lets you search an extensive database of internships, read internship reviews, create your own real-intern profile, or research companies and careers.

CoolWorks.com provides information on internships and jobs around the country at national parks and monuments, summer camps and amusement parks.

The State of South Dakota's Executive Intern Program provides opportunities for students to gain first-hand knowledge and understanding of governmental processes through pre-professional work experiences in various occupational fields.  The Executive Intern Program offers internships for students in many areas, some of which include accounting, corrections, education, engineering, fisheries and wildlife, law, nursing, pharmacy, photography, physical therapy, and public relations.

Nebraska Department of Roads might be a place to look if you are staying in Lincoln over the summer.  Often, positions at the NDOR are not advertised, so you might try politely contacting some of the individuals listed at this site to see what is currently available.

What should I know about actually applying for an internship?
When you've finished your research, you should have a list of possible sponsors and phone numbers or addresses where they can be reached.  When you contact them, you need to be politely aggressive, efficient, and professional.  Some things to think about before calling:

1. Be prepared for some curves: the internships listed may no longer be offered, or may be offered next fall, etc.  Be polite but firm in getting to the right person to tell you which internships are available, now and in the future.

2. Prepare a story about Geography.  Many internships which Geography majors have actually received don't mention Geography as one of the qualifying majors, though many do say something like "or other qualified majors".  So be prepared to succinctly describe your skills and interests: for example, if you are in urban geography, you could talk about your ability to analyze residential housing or retailing, suburban land use, etc.

3. Prepare a professional story about yourself.  Some elements of this story might be your background and interests in the type of work this organization does; your coursework; your writing, data-gathering, statistical and research skills; and your career goals.

4. Have at least a draft letter of interest and resume ready to go.  You should tailor it a bit for each position -- ideally, it should be on a computer disk so you can make minor changes and print it out quickly.  Many places will want to see such paper from you, or will be impressed if you get it to them as soon as you can.

5. Be persistent and cultivate contacts.  Even if things don't work out this semester, you may discover valuable advice on how to appear more competitive on paper as you go along.  Don't be shy about calling people back either; polite but firm aggressiveness may be to your advantage.

6. When you do set up your internship, be sure that all of the arrangements between you and your sponsor are clear, including the length of the internship, hours per week, pay, supervision and, most importantly, the specific duties you will be performing.  Menial tasks and answering the phone are not what internships are designed for - you may do some work like that, but make sure that you also will be doing work which will give you practical experience in the field of Geography.  When people do encounter problems with their internships, one of the primary reasons is that there are unclear expectations among the parties.  Don't let this happen to you.

What benefits can I expect as a student intern?
Internships can provide a unique learning experience outside the traditional academic environment, one where you can test the theories, concepts and methods introduced in the classroom.  In studying the functions and workings of a particular organization, you also gain experience working with others and seeing how decisions are made.  Also, as an intern you get the chance to explore potential careers and make key contacts in the field.  Most of all, internships can provide you with the opportunity to get to know yourself better: What kinds of work do you enjoy the most?  How do you react in particular work environments?  What kinds of people do you like to work with?  What things can you do particularly well?  What areas of Geography would you like or do you need to know more about?

Is this for you?
Internships can be wonderful experiences - educational, exciting, challenging - but they are not for everyone.  Working as an intern involves discipline, responsibility and a firm commitment to getting the most from this experience.  But before trying to find an internship, be sure that your goals are realistic and that this is really the opportunity for you.  Do not expect to get rich -- although some organizations do offer minimal salaries, many do not.  What you will receive in the way of experience, contacts and knowledge more than makes up for the donation of your time.

Is Credit Necessary or Appropriate?
Not always.  You don't need to sign up for credits to take on an internship.  Especially in the private sector, sponsors may not be particular about the connection with the college.  One thing to keep in  mind: if you can't think of a project because you don't know enough about the industry or public policy issue, you might hold off the academic exploration of a problem until after you've interned for a time--then, perhaps, intern again and get credit that semester, or sign up for an independent study course.

What if I have problems during my internship?
In any situation where you are dealing with people it is possible for misunderstandings and personality conflicts to occur.  Part of your learning experience will be to handle these problems in a professional manner as they arise.  Don't wait for small issues to mushroom into huge problems; encourage communication and feedback on what is going on.  Along with unclear expectations, poor communication is the primary cause for problems in most internships.  Hopefully, your maturity and communication skills will avert any major problems; if, however, a situation does arise which you and your sponsoring organization are not able to resolve, contact your faculty supervisor or advisor.

One of the surest ways to land a good job is to land a good internship - - paid or voluntary - - while you are still an undergraduate.

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