Olivet Students Gain Career Insights Through Internships

Internships at NASA, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago enhance academic experience for three students.

September 14, 2020 Academics

Almost all of the more than 140 areas of study at Olivet Nazarene University require some sort of practical experience, whether clinical rotations, student teaching or internship hours. These opportunities allow students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom directly into the industry in which they are pursuing a career.

After completing respective internships at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and NASA, seniors Sam Durnil, James Ijalana and Gabrielle Murphy reflect on how internships expanded their skill sets as well as their career aspirations. 

“All the worlds a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” – William Shakespeare

Last fall, Sam Durnil was looking for an internship to gain experience in the communications industry. Initially he researched available internships in the local area, but eventually broadened his geographic parameters up to Chicago. 

For Sam, a corporate communications and public relations major with a minor in theatre, an internship with the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (CST) was a dream come true. An actor, Sam has performed in several ONU Theatre and community shows, but hadn’t had much prior experience on the administrative side of show business. 

In fact, the public relations internship with the CST was the first internship Sam ever applied for. When he was invited to do a phone interview, he was ecstatic. Eventually, he was asked to do an in-person interview, which gave him an understanding of what employers are looking for and how they assess potential candidates. 

“I learned valuable lessons in what it means to have a successful interview,” Sam reflects. “The application and interview process challenged me on how to explain my strengths, weakness, and leadership style. I had to demonstrate in real time what I’ve been learning about communication studies.”

In December 2019, Sam accepted the internship offer and started the position in January 2020. As the only public relations intern, he gained an insider’s view of a working theatre; benefitting from the mentorship of people who have been in the industry for decades. Unfortunately, the pandemic cut the internship short. 

During his two months at CST, Sam helped create social media content and organize press releases; participated in strategic meetings; and worked on an independent project to streamline social media tracking. 

“What you can learn in a classroom is nothing compared to what how things unfold in the real world,” Sam says of connecting his academic experiences to his work at CST. “Sometimes you’re handed projects, right as you also have to be in a meeting. I learned how to better manage time and wear multiple hats on a daily basis.”

The insight helped Sam set more intentional goals for his own career pursuits – hoping one day to move to a large city and get involved in theatre.

“In the very broad field of communications, you need an interest, talent or experience to help you stand out,” Sam says. “This internship gave me an opportunity to learn how to use my strengths and refine what I want to do in my career.”

“To cherish and stimulate the activity of the human mind, by multiplying the objects of enterprise, is not among the least considerable of the expedients, by which the wealth of a nation may be promoted.” – Alexander Hamilton

After graduating with a degree in architecture in his home country of Nigeria, senior James Ijalana enrolled at Olivet to expand his knowledge of the field by studying architectural engineering.

While many internship experiences last only a few months, James recently completed a year-long design apprenticeship with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago (The Chicago Fed). The Chicago Fed is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks in the United States that together create the central bank for the country. 

James found out about the apprenticeship at The Chicago Fed when a recruiter for the department saw his profile on LinkedIn and encouraged him to apply. Given that he had no period connection to the organization, James was a bit hesitant about what the office culture would look like. However, his first day on the job he experienced a welcoming environment. 

“The department was very diverse,” James reflects. “I made a lot of contacts and friends during my time.”

During his year in the department, James worked with six different project managers on workplace strategy for floor, office and building updates and renovations. He frequently updated electrical drawings and signage using CAD technology and Adobe Illustrator software to update artwork templates and print them out on paper, vinyl and foam core materials. His position was paid and even included some benefits.

Unlike many internship experiences that happen over the summer, James had to schedule his hours around his school schedule. Typically, he went in to the office in downtown Chicago on Monday and Wednesday afternoons and Friday. 

Looking forward to graduation next spring, James knows that his apprenticeship provided insight into what he wants his career to look like. “I want to work with a construction or architectural firm,” he says. “Although I don’t want to work directly in the field of my apprenticeship, I made connections with company partners and anticipate lasting relationships.”

“The dream is alive.” – NASA astronaut John Young

When looking for an internship this past summer, Gabrielle Murphy, who is double majoring in political science and international business with a Spanish minor, turned her eyes to the sky. 

Although she didn’t have any established connections with NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and didn’t anticipate even hearing back from the agency, Gabrielle applied for an internship during the 2020 spring semester. By the end of spring break, she was offered the position.

Given that NASA’s headquarters are located in Washington, D.C., Gabrielle was looking forward to returning to the nation’s capital where she spent last summer working on Capitol Hill, and spent a semester studying through the American Studies Program. However, the pandemic necessitated that all internships across the agency be conducted virtually.

Still, Gabrielle found the experience to be engaging and stimulating. The remote work also gave her a glimpse at the future of business. “It’s not something I would have willingly chosen,” she says of the virtual learning environment. “But, it was probably the best way to figure out how to acclimate to working remotely.”

Before the internship began Gabrielle was sent a laptop, a secure network token, an official NASA polo and other resources to facilitate a smooth onboarding process.

Over the course of the summer, Gabrielle worked on four communications and business analytics projects with the Space Technology Mission Directorate. In addition to the practical experience, she also benefitted from virtual social gatherings for the interns including coffee chats with astronauts and mid-week meditations. 

“NASA is the No. 1 rated federal agency and the organizational culture is so incredible and diverse!” Gabrielle, reflects. “Even working remotely, it was a beautiful work environment to experience.”

Before accepting the internship opportunity with NASA, Gabrielle had her sights set on going to law school. However, when studying for the LSAT, she felt a distinct need to change her plans. During the spring 2019 semester, she took an astronomy course with Dr. Steve Case and discovered an interest in stars and space. After learning more about the business side of NASA, Gabrielle is now considering opportunities to combine her passions of law and space.

“I never thought I could work or intern for NASA – I didn’t have a background in STEM,” she reflects. Given her success, Gabrielle encourages other students to really dream big when looking for internships. “Don’t limit yourself. As my internship at NASA proves, organizations want people who are passionate and adaptable. You can teach someone about nuclear thermal propulsion. You can’t teach someone to have grit or enthusiasm. The sky’s the limit.”

For more information on how Olivet prepares students for meaningful careers, contact the Office of Admissions at admissions@olivet.edu or 800-648-1463.

*Photos submitted and used with permission. 
Published 9/14/2020

Student on main campus wearing pink sweater and holding water bottle.

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