Students and Alumni Agree—Internship Experience Invaluable

July 17, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – While many people are struggling to find summer jobs in the economic downswing, many Illinois Wesleyan University students have obtained summer internships that give them valuable experience in the fields that could be their careers. A few of these students found such opportunities through one of IWU’s most valuable resources: its alumni.

According to Assistant Director and Internship Coordinator for the Hart Career Center Laurie Diekhoff, the job market this summer has been exceptionally tough. "Organizations have been trimming and working with minimal staff," she said. "Students are competing with laid off workers for the jobs that do exist."

However, from marketing for a photography business to building sets for an independent film company, three IWU students have obtained summer internships despite the competition by working with alumni. "Internships are especially important because they show that a student is following up on their career interests, learning about the field and developing concrete skills," said Diekhoff.

Additionally, these particular internships are giving alumni an opportunity to give back to the school by supporting the students and passing on their wisdom. Following are some experiences three Illinois Wesleyan students have had working with alumni this summer.

Blue Damen Pictures, Chicago.

Illinois Wesleyan University senior Cara Galvin, of Itasca, Ill., used to think that internships "centered on fetching coffee and making copies." While this could have been her experience in an office environment, her experience at Blue Damen Pictures in Chicago, this summer has been much more diverse. According to Illinois Wesleyan alumna and proprietor of Blue Damen Pictures Gwydhar Bratton, Galvin has done "everything from casting to filing to making runs to Sam’s Club."

The different day-to-day experiences are what drew Bratton to film after she graduated from IWU as a theater major in 2004. "Working on a film, especially a low budget film, invariably involves a lot of creative problem solving," she said. "It gives you the chance to use mental and physical resources that you don’t usually get to use." Galvin agreed that the opportunities at her internship have been many. "At Blue Damen, I can be involved in any of the projects – every day is different, even the location."

One of the various projects that Galvin, an international business major and Spanish minor, has undertaken is writing a blog about the film company’s activities at www.cara3.wordpress.com/. In it, she relates her experiences with all aspects of film-making, including designing storyboards for the trailer of the company’s newest feature.

While Galvin has said that she enjoys the level of feedback during her internship, Bratton said she has enjoyed working with a student from her alma mater as well. "Cara impressed me with her good sense of what she wanted to do and preparation for the interview," she said. "An internship is all about showing future employers that you can do it, do it well, and do it until it’s done."

Bratton, who founded Blue Damen Pictures a few years ago after doing "basic work" for production companies, has some history with internships. "There’s a little bit of talent and a lot of hard work involved," she said, "so my advice to a student seeking employment would be to show up (on time!), meet deadlines, and not complain too much in between."

Chris Guillen Photography, Forest Park, Ill.

Shannon Moffitt, an Illinois Wesleyan senior from Glen Ellyn, Ill., learned of Chris Guillen through the Hart Career Center. Although she didn’t have experience in photography as a double international business and Hispanic studies major, she saw an opening for a marketing intern, and applied for the job.

Guillen, a 1991 graduate with a bachelor of fine arts degree and the owner of his own photography business in Forest Park, Ill., says he has a lot of confidence in IWU’s business-related programs. Having worked with other IWU students in the past, he said, "I hope my time and my wisdom is enough to give back."

His wisdom has indeed benefited Moffitt. What this internship offered her is an insider’s view on how a small business is run. According to Guillen, students don’t always get a good idea of what their actual working days will consist of from classes. "One of the things you want to know is, "is this what I want to do?’" he said. "Well, you don’t know until you’re in it."

Moffitt says she has enjoyed being "in it," and seeing all the different components of the business working together. "I also get to work directly with the owner, which is different from most internships," she said. She and Guillen have collaborated on an effort to increase the company’s name recognition and publicity. "Being in your own business, you do all of it yourself," said Guillen, "but it’s been great having a marketing person to follow through on everything."

Guillen, who is busy starting a second business of his own, had some words of wisdom for students entering the working world: "It could be worth doing an internship for no pay," he said, "because having the internship gives you a foot in the door, and that’s a huge advantage. It can also help you decide whether you want to follow that path for a career."

The Recovery Zone, Rock Falls, Ill.

Amanda Sobottka, a senior French and psychology double major, didn’t know of many opportunities in psychology in her hometown of Rock Falls, Ill.. She decided to pick up the phone book and begin calling every business related to psychology or counseling in the area. "Of course the list was very small," she said, "but I got lucky with The Recovery Zone."

Only when she was face to face with Marty Huntley, director of The Recovery Zone in Rock Falls, did she learn that he was a 1978 Illinois Wesleyan graduate. Huntley’s company coordinates substance abuse counseling, and also performs assessments and therapy sessions.

According to Sobottka, she and Huntley have been able to speak on common ground about the school. "It’s great working with Marty, because we have that commonality as well as an educational understanding," said Sobottka. This sort of communication has made Sobottka’s internship experience a unique one. "He simply asked me what I wanted out of the internship, and encouraged me to take advantage of the opportunity to help in case management and therapy sessions," she said.

Huntley, who fondly recalls his dorm room in Kemp Hall from his days as a student, said working with a student from his alma mater has been mutually beneficial. "Hopefully Amanda and I will continue to learn from each other," he said.

Sobottka says this experience has been invaluable in teaching her about the dynamics of substance abuse counseling. "In just a few weeks I have gained a better understanding about substance abuse and what addicts and their families go through," she said. "It’s very rewarding to see the application of psychological principles to a wide-spread problem."

Her favorite part of working with clients is when therapeutic breakthroughs take place during counseling or therapy sessions. Huntley, who has nearly 30 years of experience in substance abuse counseling and also teaches at a junior college, agreed: "Witnessing the spiritual transformation in some of my clients is what inspires me to continue working in rehabilitation."

Although there are several Illinois Wesleyan students who have internships with alumni this summer, one thing the alumni featured in this story have in common is that they are all the owners of their own businesses. Having fought to start their own companies, all three have been able to provide distinctive advice and guidance for their interns.

According to Laurie Diekhoff of the Hart Career Center, the common ground of working with an alum combined with the fact that these alumni run their own businesses has provided a unique opportunity for IWU students. "Having studied at Illinois Wesleyan, these alumni know the faculty, the courses, and have similar experiences. This knowledge makes for a richer connection between intern and supervisor," she said. "Our alumni greatly enjoy giving back to the University, so they often go out of their way to mentor students. It’s a win-win situation!"

For additional information about internship opportunities for IWU students, contact Laurie Diekhoff at (309) 556-3071.

Contact: Garrett Rapp ’10, (309) 556-3181