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A Student's View--Making the Most of Your Internship/Co-op

This week ECS is featuring Ellen Harrell, a 4th year Chemical Engineering student. Ellen has interned at Cardinal Health in IT, and at Marathon Petroleum Corporation as an environmental intern in Findlay, OH, and an environmental refining intern in Texas City, Texas. Below are her tips on making the most of your internship/co-op experience.

Network with employees

On co-op or internship you are going to meet a lot of new people. You will be introduced to your co-workers and fellow interns, but make sure you go out and try to meet other employees too. I would advise doing informational interviews with other employees outside of your group. This gives you a chance to network and learn about other roles in the company. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask to set up a meeting to meet and learn about their position. At Cardinal Health, I had informational interviews almost every week with different co-workers.

Ask questions

It is totally ok to feel overwhelmed and lost – especially during your first few weeks – trust me, we have all been there. Your co-workers know you are new to the company and workplace and usually they are more than happy to help you! During meetings there would be terms or topics discussed that I didn’t understand. I often wrote down notes of questions for my mentor/supervisor to ask after the meeting. Asking questions is a good thing because it shows you are paying attention and trying to learn more about your position and the company. I asked questions all the time – up to my last day. Asking questions is key to understanding and shows an initiative to learn and grow as a professional.

Connect with other interns

If you have fellow interns during your internship or co-op make sure you get to know them. These are the people that are going through the same thing you are and  can be great resources for questions and advice. None of you know where you are going to end up, but these people could be your future co-workers, supervisor, or have a connection in a field or company you are interested in. Getting to know my fellow interns made my experiences even better and created great new friendships.

Get out there!

Get to know the city you are in for your co-op/internship. If this is the company you want to end up working for this could be the area you are living and want to make sure it’s a good fit for yourself. Many co-op/internships could take you to some place new; working in Texas for me was new experience as I had never lived out of Ohio or been to Texas. This was a great opportunity for me to see if I liked the different environment and being so far away from family and friends.

Make sure to use this experience to learn about what you like or don’t like, what you may want to do in the future, where you may want to live and what field you want to work in. Co-ops/internships are a great way to find out a lot about yourself personally and professionally.

And finally…

At the end of the day it’s all about your work ethic, attitude, and confidence. Make sure your work ethic is strong and show that you are not afraid to go above and beyond what is asked to learn and grow as a professional. How you treat people and the attitude you bring to work will go a long way.  Be confident in the work you do and the professional you are, just because you’re an intern doesn’t mean you can’t speak up when you have an idea or help make important decisions. Being a strong, dedicated, positive worker will help create a wonderful internship/co-op experience.

“Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude,”
– Ralph Marston

About the author

Guest Student