Trying out potential careers from packaging to conservation
Summer internships provide College of Natural Resources and Environment students with real-world experience and a head start on career success.
When Rosa Williams attended a College of Natural Resources and Environment (CNRE) career fair last fall as a sophomore, she never expected to walk away with a summer job at one of the world’s largest companies.
“I went to the job fair looking for opportunities, but I didn't really expect to get offered such a great position so early in my college career,” said Williams, a junior from Marietta, Georgia, majoring in packaging systems and design in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials. “I’m so grateful that CNRE shares so many resources relating to jobs and that the interviewers at 3M saw my potential.”
Williams spent her summer working as an intern in the packaging solutions department at 3M’s international headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota, and she will continue working with the company until November. She has had the opportunity to contribute to a variety of projects, ranging from designing consumer-facing packaging to collaborating with manufacturers on changes that could result in cost savings. Williams also was able to explore the chemical and regulatory sides of packaging — and gain a better understanding of how chemistry plays into packaging decisions.
“One of the best parts of this experience has been seeing real-world applications of the things that I've been learning in my classes,” Williams said. “There have even been a few times where people at 3M have referenced my professors during training. It’s amazing to know that some of my coworkers have learned from the professors that I see every day on campus.”
It's no secret that an internship is one of the best ways to try out a future career path or employer, get critical work experience, or simply land a job. Research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers indicates that employers offer full-time jobs to nearly 66 percent of their interns, and that job-related internships are the single most influential factor in hiring — even ahead of grades, leadership roles, or other work experience.
CNRE ensures that all students are well-equipped to find an internship opportunity that meets their needs — whether through the college’s biannual career fairs, regular emails listing dozens of job and internship opportunities, or interactions with professors and advisors. There’s even a college employee dedicated to the task of connecting students with employers.
“It’s been great to see more students and employers at our job fairs every year,” said John Freeborn, the college’s director of employer relations. “When students stop by my office and say, ‘Hey, I got that internship,’ or ‘I got that job,’ that makes my work very satisfying. It also makes CNRE competitive for new students coming in.”
Matt Simonson, a junior packaging systems and design major from Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, spent the summer on Virginia Tech’s campus, working as a lab technician intern in the Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design. The center — one of the leading packaging research facilities in the U.S. — brings together researchers, students, and industry professionals to improve the efficiency, cost, and sustainability of the distribution packaging sector.
Simonson was invited to apply for the internship by Eduardo Molina, collegiate assistant professor and the center's associate director, after he took one of Molina’s classes.
“At the center and Corrugated Packaging Materials Lab, we have developed a system to allow students to acquire experience that is on par with any outside work experience,” Molina said. “Every day, they are working on projects contracted by outside companies. This modality is unique because there are few, if any, opportunities for undergraduate students to acquire relevant work experience while being full-time students on campus.”
Simonson has gained hands-on experience with pallets, packaging, unit load design, evaluation, and testing using the most rigorous American and international testing standards.
“Actually handling and working with material teaches you so much more,” he said. “This internship has taught me to be very precise and patient by making sure that each test and each sample is properly tested and cut correctly. Material testing is going to help my career — and having experience in material structure and properties will help me in all aspects of packaging.”
Tackling fieldwork while trying out conservation careers
For junior wildlife conservation major Kylie Harris, a summer internship at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation near her hometown of Virginia Beach offered a first taste of field work and an exciting new career path. Through her work as an oyster restoration intern, the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation student is proud to say she’s had a hands-on role in helping restore oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“I can physically see the impact I’m making on the environment and our goals, whether it be oyster planting, shell recycling, or reaching out to volunteers and school groups,” Harris said. “I have done incredible things with the foundation, including planting over a million oysters into the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach.”
Harris also has recycled oyster shells to be reused as future habitat, installed a living shoreline in Norfolk, and coordinated volunteers for the Oyster Gardening Program.
“My original goal was to be a park ranger for either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Park Service,” she said. “Now, I want to shift my focus to nonprofits and would love to end up working at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation one day.”
Senior Noah Turner, an environmental conservation and society major in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation from Salem, Virginia, interned with the Colorado Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and U.S. Forest Service. Turner spent the summer monitoring boat ramps and restoring and reopening trails in Glenwood Canyon that were devastated by the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire that burned over 32,600 acres in the Rocky Mountains.
He also had a chance to explore a career in the U.S. Forest Service. “I haven’t completely decided, but this internship has certainly given me a better idea about what Forest Service jobs and culture are like,” he said. “It’s taught me so much about how government land agencies operate and are structured.”
Turner also was able to shadow river rangers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and spend time whitewater kayaking and rafting the Colorado River.
Along with a weekly stipend, housing, and an AmeriCorps education award (scholarship) to offset college expenses, participants in the internship program receive priority consideration for future jobs with the U.S. Forest Service.
“I really appreciate how CRNE goes the extra mile to help find unique internships and jobs for us,” Turner said. “Not only did I find this summer’s internship through Mr. Freeborn, but I also was a whitewater rafting guide in the New River Gorge last summer thanks to him. At a bigger school like Virginia Tech, it’s great to be in a college that cares about my success.”
“We are fortunate that Mr. Ken Morgan of Morgan Lumber Company funded our director of employer relations position in the college,” said Dean Paul Winistorfer. “He saw a need to better connect our students and industry partners, and we are making great progress in building a very strong network that benefits students and employers. Internships are a known, highly valued experience for our students, and John Freeborn is critical to the success of this effort.”
Harris and Williams have received support for their academic and career preparation activities through CNRE departmental scholarships. Harris is a past recipient of the Class of 1952 Scholarship, and Williams was honored with the following awards: Center for Forest Products Business Scholarship and Lora L. and Martin N. Kelley Family Scholarship, G. Scott Francis Endowed Scholarship, and Geza Ifju Scholarship in Wood Science and Forest Products.
CNRE’s fall Career Fair will take place on Oct. 5. If you are an industry professional interested in partnering with CNRE to provide internships, recruit future employees, or offer other opportunities for student learning, please contact John Freeborn, director of employer relations, at 540-231-1138 or email@example.com.
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