Internships Provide Experiential Learning Opportunities for Students Like Diehl
Oct. 11, 2016
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— In case anyone still believes an internship is about fetching coffee
for the full-time employees, Emily Diehl ’17 is here to set you straight.
A business administration major at Illinois Wesleyan University, Diehl is a marketing
account executive intern at Progressive Impressions International (pii), a Bloomington-based
direct mail marketing provider. She’s held the internship for more than a year, working
on the special projects team. In her first few weeks on the job, Diehl’s supervisor
asked her to conduct research on a potential client, a task ordinarily completed by
an account executive.
“My boss found I have a knack for research, so that’s become my primary focus,” Diehl
said of her responsibilities. In fact, Diehl’s investigation of consumer trends in
the auto industry led to the invitation to help train the company’s account directors
on how to market a new product.
“It was very interesting to be 15 years younger than a lot of the professionals in
the room, giving them a step-by-step guide on how to market this new product,” said
Diehl, a native of Atkinson, Ill.
Employers regard such teamwork and communication skills as vital. In the National
Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2016 Spring Update, employers regarded four competencies — critical thinking/problem solving, professionalism/work
ethic, teamwork, and communication skills — to be “essential” and “absolutely essential”
in the college graduates they are looking to hire.
Internships offer students opportunities to demonstrate their abilities to work in
teams, to problem solve, and to present their ideas orally and in writing. Diehl successfully
exhibited all of these attributes about eight months into the job when she was tasked
with managing a company pitch for new business. With account executives and her boss
out of the office for the day, Diehl served as project manager between account executives
in the company’s Florida office and a graphic designer on Diehl’s team, ironing out
details on the proposal’s due date. “It was an awesome feeling to be in charge of
a project that big, to have it completed on time, and to have everyone be happy with
the end result,” said Diehl.
With Illinois Wesleyan’s curriculum focused on creativity, critical thinking and effective
communication, Diehl said her coursework has prepared her well for success.
She said her most significant takeaway from her internship has been the opportunity
to “live the concepts we are taught in the classroom, and then taking those concepts
above and beyond.” She said she is well-versed in SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities,
Threats) analysis of any company she’s researching. “There’s nothing like doing it
for a real company rather than a classroom exercise, yet you have to be taught how
to do it in the classroom. No employer wants to take the time to teach it to you.”
This fall semester nearly 80 students are interning at 49 different locations. Many
employers take part in the university’s annual Internship Fair, where Diehl first met representatives from pii. Illinois Wesleyan students reported
interning at 240 locations last academic year, and 66 percent of recent graduates had at least
one internship experience — just one example of experiential learning opportunities
for students at Illinois Wesleyan.
“Quality internships, like Emily’s, provide students with a chance to put their liberal
arts education to use in a real-world work environment while gaining some of the ‘career-ready’
skills that employers value in future hires,” said Laurie Diekhoff, associate director
for career engagement at the Hart Career Center. “We are thankful for organizations like pii who take extra steps to ensure interns
have opportunities to learn, grow and contribute.”