AUBURN, Ala. —For Danville native Sarah Stephenson, summer breaks are not about beach trips, but internships. The junior in poultry science production is spending this summer in the federal government relations office of Tyson Foods, Inc., in Washington, D.C., completing her third internship as an undergraduate student. While one is required for her major, Stephenson says she continues to apply, interview and accept internships because she feels the experiences are valuable as she works to become a well-rounded potential employee.
During a recent interview with the College of Agriculture, Stephenson pointed to this and other reasons why these pre-career opportunities are beneficial to undergraduate students. Read on for more from that interview.
COA: What extracurricular activities are you involved in at Auburn?
SS: I’m a member of the Poultry Science Club, vice president of Ag Council and a former Ag Ambassador.
COA: What are your career goals, or what do you plan to do after you finish your bachelor’s degree?
SS: When I complete my bachelor’s degree at Auburn, I plan to attend Texas A&M University and earn my master’s degree in international development. With that degree I hope to spend my career working with agribusinesses to provide sustainable food sources for developing countries.
COA: How did you find the internship with Tyson Foods, Inc.?
SS: I got interested in politics, ag policy and international trade issues in the summer of 2013. I knew I wanted to jump in with both feet this summer, so I asked Dr. [Paul] Patterson about next steps. He put me in contact with Mr. Chuck Penry, an Auburn College of Agriculture alumnus and vice president of federal government relations with Tyson Foods, Inc.
COA: Describe the application and selection process.
SS: I made a cold call to Mr. Penry in March and he was incredible. He asked some typical interview questions about my background and interest in the position. Following that we set up a phone interview with Mrs. Nora Venegas, Director, Federal Government Relations. During the phone interview I was asked more specific interview questions and was offered the internship.
COA: What does a typical day in this internship entail?
SS: It is rarely the same from day to day. Some days involve hosting events, other days I attend receptions and events on behalf of Tyson Foods, Inc. and some days I’m taking notes on congressional hearings. I spend a lot of time learning about current issues that are both directly and indirectly related to agriculture.
COA: Does your major require that you complete an internship?
SS: It sure does! I got all of the required paperwork and report knocked out during my first internship in the summer of 2012. Now I apply, interview and accept internships because it’s absolutely imperative for being a well-rounded student and potential employee.
COA: What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through this position so far?
SS: Be humble enough and passionate enough to ask questions. When I don’t understand a policy issue or congressional procedure, I ask. They don’t teach this “stuff” in the classroom, I won’t learn it watching the morning news, and I’m not going to get all the answers reading the on the Metro. These folks are like gold mines – they have the answers, but I have to seek that knowledge out. I have to care. I have to to know.
COA: Tell us about the most fun or unexpected experience you’ve had so far.
SS: I’m in the United State Capitol, y’all. There are surprises and adventures every single day. I’ve had the opportunity to sit in the House chamber, I’ve been to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and every morning I come up the escalator from the Metro to the National Archives. There’s nothing mundane about this place!
COA: What advice would you give to other students who are considering or looking for an internship?
SS: Be brave. There is nothing wrong with interning at home where you are most comfortable, but there is more for the taking. It will be intimidating at first because you won’t know it all, but that builds character like nothing else. Last summer, during my internship in Canada, I learned a lot about my calling- about my purpose and passion and personality. If the Lord is willing, and I know He is, I will dig even deeper into those things this summer. Those things just can’t be learned in your comfort zone.
For more information or to contact Stephenson, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 334-844-5805.