By Wendy D. McDaniel
In today’s workplace, employers often look for practical, hands-on experience when it comes to candidates for employment.
Internships are an effective way to gain the experience many employers want and the real-world job skills employees need in order to be successful.
The reasons for taking on the extra responsibility of an internship are endless. Valuable experience, identifying a particular interest within a field and discovering whether to specialize in any one area of an industry have all been the results of internships. Plains Cotton Cooperative Association (PCCA) is one of the many businesses that have been doing its part in helping students gain valuable internship experience for the past 10 years.
The program was conceived during a 1986 conversation between John Johnson, PCCA’s communications director and Dr. Curt Paulson a faculty member in the Agricultural Education Department at Texas Tech University. Over coffee, the two envisioned the program as a way to help undergraduates gain the experience and exposure to the world of agricultural communications. That conversation planted the seed that today has cultivated more than 20 young minds.
“We knew it would be a success,” says Dr. Paulson. “I am a firm believer in internships. They allow the student to use what they learn in a classroom and apply that knowledge in a practical situation. And in the end, they not only gain a better understanding of their field of study, but they also have a tangible example of their work for future employers to judge.”
PCCA offers two, year-long internship positions for students during the year. The positions are purposely staggered by semesters so that one intern can benefit from the other’s experience and learn the responsibilities, schedules and procedures.
PCCA’s interns are treated as regular employees from the beginning. In the internship selection process, interviews are conducted just as they would be for any job. The applicants are evaluated on both written and verbal communication skills and only the best candidates are selected to fill the positions. Like all other PCCA employees, interns are required to work a minimum number of hours each week. They are responsible for a portion of the writing and production of such publications as The Commentator, a publication for the coop’s members and Denim Notes, an employee magazine distributed at PCCA’s denim mill in Littlefield, TX. All interns are required to meet deadlines for stories and presentations.
“This is a real-world job experience, the interns are regarded as employees of PCCA, and the same rules apply to all of them,” says Johnson.
While at PCCA, interns are exposed to every process involved in the completion of the publications including photography, editing, proofreading, page design and layout. They also play an active part in disseminating commodity market information through audio reports delivered to radio stations. They also gain experience in audio/visual presentations as well as making valuable contacts within the cotton industry.
“We try to give the interns as much responsibility as possible with the publications,” says Johnson. “By providing a broader scope of the agricultural communications field, the interns can better understand the basic elements of the industry.”
Johnson says that since the internship’s creation, applicants have mainly consisted of students studying agricultural communications at Texas Tech University, however, program participation is not limited to only those students.
“In the past, the ag communications students selected are the ones who have shown the greatest interest in the PCCA internship program, “says Jacqui Lockaby, agricultural communications student advisor at Texas Tech. “And those who have applied and completed the internship have made Texas Tech and our department proud. The internship has proven to be one of the best in the field and definitely one of the most popular in our department,” she says. “We are pleased that PCCA is interested in our students, and we feel it is a good indication of the quality of students we are producing through our department.”
“I have no doubt that I would not be in my present position had it not been for my internship at PCCA,” says Wayne Cleveland, a 1987 intern and present southwest field representative for the Cotton Board. “I learned the ins and outs of the cotton industry and communications. I also gained exposure to important people in the cotton industry, and that helps a lot in the corporate world of cotton. PCCA is a well-known player in the cotton market game, and working for them was a great opportunity and an essential part of my career.”
Other interns such as Christy Bell, now with the USA Rice Federation, and Shelley McDaniel with the Texas Farm Bureau, are advocates for the experience they gained while employed at PCCA.
“I believe my present job is a result of the role I played in producing the quality work that PCCA’s communications department has become known for,” says Bell. “Not only having my name in print, but the skills and discipline that my internship taught me has made an impression on colleagues and employers alike. McDaniel is an assistant editor for all of the Texas Farm Bureau’s publications, including the bimonthly publication, Texas Agriculture.
“I know my internship was instrumental to me landing my job,” McDaniel notes. “It demonstrated to my bosses that I not only had the motivation to do something as an undergraduate but that I did it successfully with a reputable business such as PCCA. Internships are one of the most important things to consider as an undergraduate. It does not matter what it is, if you can gain real work experience it is well worth your effort, and you will be rewarded for your time later in life.”