InternOKC: Jordan Burdick
In my experience, there should be two main areas of focus for any student in an internship. The first is what most people think of: learning about the industry and gaining experience in that field. This is achieved in the everyday tasks which differ for each student in each internship. This first area of focus is purely dependent on the student's major, the company, and terms of the internship itself.
There is a secondary area of focus, though, which I argue is just as important as, if not more important than, the first. This is the knowledge the student gains by living or working in a new city, meeting new people and making new connections, exploring life as a working adult, and having responsibilities and independence for what might be the first time.
This second part is definitely the more challenging of the two. It requires a student to go outside his or her comfort zone. After all, if an intern doesn't know how to work the phones or use a complicated software, they can probably Google it and find the answer in five seconds or less. Learning to drive through rush hour traffic without being late, to network with perfect strangers, and to find meaning in everyday, sometimes frustrating work are skills that can’t be taught. They have to be learned through experience, and that’s what internships are really for.
Luckily, there are a number of employers in the Oklahoma City area who have recognized this and have created a program called InternOKC that helps students find their way. As participants in InternOKC, we first learn about things going on in this exciting city which teaches us how to be involved in a community and entertain ourselves even when we’re on our own. We learn about how to work in a multi-generational workplace and how to communicate with our bosses and our peers. We learn how to fight implicit bias between different races, backgrounds, and other cultural dividers. We even get lots of practice dressing up, putting on our nametags (on the right side, of course) and networking faces, and eating at a banquet lunch while simultaneously trying to remember the names and companies of those around us and listening to the lecturer.
These skills aren’t learned anywhere else. There may be business classes devoted to them at universities, but hearing about how to politely eat a salad is worthless until you actually get stuck with the biggest pieces of lettuce at the luncheon. That’s a real learning experience. So is getting your hair stuck in a nametag because you haven’t yet figured out how to pull off a professional pony-tail. So is figuring out which shoes are and aren’t okay to wear when you have to walk several blocks through downtown. So is learning that it’s okay to ask someone to repeat their name or even to mispronounce it, as long as you get it right before you shake their hand at the end of the day.
InternOKC makes students have these experiences. For some of us, it may be one of the first times we’re put into those situations. For others of us, it’s just another five weeks of practice. Either way, it’s one of the best decisions an Oklahoma City intern can make.
The lessons I’ve learned aren’t just applicable to inexperienced college students, however. We could all use a little reminder to go out into the world and experience it. We have to see new things, meet new people, and break new barriers in order to grow.