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Business internships give "added value"

By Sally Jongsma

Professor Chris Rehn has more companies asking for Dordt College business interns than he can supply during the school year. Nearly seventy business majors participate in internships each year. The businesses they serve benefit, too. In fact, says Rehn, who coordinates the academic year program, most businesses give Dordt interns an “A” as employees.

Rick Jensen, the director of the Sioux Falls Soccer Association, said about one intern, “This young man is incredible. The work he did for us will be used for years to come.”

Business Professors Bernie Weidenaar and Chris Rehn help arrange valuable and required internships for their majors.  Katrina Kobes is one of many students who received job offers from the businesses they served as interns.

Business Professors Bernie Weidenaar and Chris Rehn help arrange valuable and required internships for their majors. Katrina Kobes is one of many students who received job offers from the businesses they served as interns.

“We would hire Heather today if she was available,” said Marlowe Van Ginkel, the director of public relations for Hope Haven, Inc. “She was an asset to our office.”

Another global business that has placed interns in the past gives Dordt students priority over other candidates because of the consistently high standards former interns have brought to their work, says Rehn.

Business internships can be done during the school year, with students working ten to twenty hours per week, or they can be done during the summer. Although the school year internships must be within driving distance of the college and are usually arranged with a list of companies Rehn has worked with over the years, summer placements are made across the country. Supervised by Professor Bernard Weidenaar, these internships often start with a contact students have in their home town or with someone they know.

“Employers give our students high praise,” says Weidenaar, adding that the students are hard workers who learn quickly and contribute to the company while they are learning.

“Businesses get a lot of ‘value added’ when they take on an intern,” adds Rehn. They get a motivated employee who is eager to learn and do well in the placement.

Part of the internship experience is for students to find and interview for a position. Once they are hired, the business lays out a training plan with the student and Rehn or Weidenaar, detailing what the intern will do. Interns work hard and independently, but always have a supervisor to go to with questions. They are required to spend 130 hours, usually between ten and fifteen hours per week, on site with the business or organization. Almost all interns during the school year are paid and payment for summer interns is required.

The range of businesses in which students work is as broad as the range of companies in business. Many accounting firms have established internship programs. Banks, city offices, manufacturing companies, historical societies, and non-profit organizations have all taken Dordt College students on as interns—and not just in North America. Previous interns have served in the Netherlands, Africa, Nicaragua, and other places.

“Internships give students an opportunity to use what they learn as they learn it,” says Rehn.

“Sometimes they learn by seeing things in their workplace that don’t work well,” says Weidenaar. And being involved in a variety of aspects of a company’s work gives the student a better sense of the type of job they might like to find after they graduate.

Nicki Van Beek works under the supervision of Dale Vander Berg at People's Bank in Sioux Center

Nicki Van Beek works under the supervision of Dale Vander Berg at People's Bank in Sioux Center

“My internship experience has been one of the most value-adding things that I have done during my college career,” says Leah Vande Vegte. “It amazed me how nearly all of my coursework came together in a work setting. I needed to use analytical and logical thinking from my stats and math courses, public speaking and writing from my communications courses, and all of the accounting knowledge that I had gleaned so far.”

The Dordt College business department uses its internship program a bit differently than many institutions do. “We encourage students to participate in more internships and at an earlier stage in their college program,” says Weidenaar. Many institutions require an internship of their seniors at the end of their academic program.

Dordt business faculty believe that participating in internships earlier and more than once allows them to become a more integral part of the curriculum. Students reflect on their experiences in their classes in the context of what they are doing on the job.

“Many of our majors do two, three, or even more internships over the course of the school years and the summers they are in college,” says Weidenaar. He tries to get them to stretch themselves by choosing experiences that put those who have grown up in rural settings in cities and vice versa.

“I know that my first internship at Pella got me the internship for the City of Medina. I even beat out graduate students for the position!” says Katrina Kobes.

Summer internships for business majors can be critical in another way. Weidenaar says that many companies use internships as a way to look over candidates for openings they may have.

“It’s actually a chance to look both ways and see if the fit is good,” Weidenaar says.

Vande Vegte is a case in point. “I think that there are three main benefits that I received from my internship. I learned how to interact with co-workers and communicate information clearly and concisely with my supervisors. Secondly, I greatly increased my computer skills which has helped me in all areas of my life. Finally, through the internship, I was able to apply for and earn a project accountant position with the same company after I graduate! While having an internship was difficult and stressful at times, I am definitely glad to have had one!"

Almost all business students express appreciation for the opportunity to participate in internships as part of their major. Kate Vanden Heuvel worked in the marketing department at Musco Lighting in Oskaloosa, Iowa. She believes that one important thing she learned was how to function in a real company and how to adapt to changes and new tasks that arise daily.

Angie Liston says, “I learned that I could handle more than what I had thought I could. Going into the internship, I was nervous because the description of my duties was intimidating. However, now I know that I can do more than I give myself credit for.

It’s rewarding to know that you are needed and appreciated in a job. I felt like I was a part of a team that depended on me. The responsibility was invigorating.”

Evaluating the Internship

At the end of the internship, students are evaluated by the supervisor and Professor Rehn or Weidenaar, who visit most interns over the course of the semester or summer. But Rehn and Weidenaar evaluate more than performance on the job. They also require a series of reflective assignments. Students must submit written answers to questions like:

Other assignments include writing a company history that includes, among other things, the company’s mission, goals, and the impact it has had on its locale. Interns must also develop an ad campaign or explore a problem the company is addressing, describe how they are dealing with it, and consider whether there is evidence that it is being dealt with in a uniquely Christian way. The final paper requires interns to list their expectations and whether they were filled, identify important skills learned, describe how their coursework related to the experience, and reflect generally on the value of the experience and how it helped them grow as a Christian entering the business world.