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Internships Offer Paths to Employment

by Andrew Tellijohn | Winter 2011

Human Touch
Kyle Simonette, human resource development, ’10


Kyle Simonette discovered a new career passion through an internship at his employer University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview.

Kyle Simonette started working at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, as a nursing assistant, then became a lab assistant on his way to what he thought would be a medical career. But as he advanced in the classroom and at the job, he discovered he was better at caring for fellow employees than patients.

“I began to realize that my passion was more about teaching and helping employees be happier and more productive at work,” he says. “I began working at the hospital because I had always thought I wanted to go to medical school. What I realized, however, is that I didn’t actually care for the role of the physician.”

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So he transferred in 2009 from a nutrition science program into CEHD’s human resource development major. He also approached his boss at the medical center, asking if he could get some experience in roles that would fit with his new career path. The organization was happy to oblige, and he transferred to a new position as a human resources assistant that he was able to leverage into an internship required for his degree.

His opportunity to stand out arose when his boss asked his entire department to form small teams that brainstormed ideas for improving various work-related processes. He noticed that human resources assistants were creating employee files in different ways, which was causing confusion and waste. So he created AutoNewHire, an electronic tool that automatically generates a checklist of items necessary for each file.

“I wanted to formalize the process to reduce errors,” Simonette says. “I also wanted to enable HRAs to spend more time on their customers and less time on paperwork.” Now he’s working on the next version of AutoNewHire, which will be able to automatically select the proper documents to be completed based on specific job duties.

Simonette says the experience has helped him both professionally and in his personal development. He gained confidence in his abilities and learned he had a talent for working with computers “that stands out from even the current generation of digital natives.”

While Simonette has been aggressive about getting experience in his field, he also benefited from the classroom. His own view of how the human resources field and the world works was shaped and refined by strategies learned in the classroom. And his studies often confirmed that thoughts and beliefs he had developed through other experiences were on the right track.

“When studying I would mentally weigh the various (human resource development) concepts and oftentimes find ideas that rang true for me,” Simonette says. “When discovering these I would just insert those ideas into my mental map of how the world works.”

The experience also put him in touch with various directors and executives at the medical center, where he hopes to stay and look for growth opportunities for some time. He’ll find out soon about a possible promotion.

Sound Off
Paul Shanafelt, youth studies, senior


Paul Shanafelt has turned his internship at The Garage, a youth-run recreation center and music venue in Burnsville, into an ongoing job teaching youth how to run mixing boards and other sound equipment.

Though his initial internship fulfilled a requirement for his youth studies major, senior Paul Shanafelt hasn’t taken much convincing to keep working at The Garage, a Burnsville community center run almost exclusively by teenagers that hosts weekend concerts.

The program director asked Shanafelt—whose musical background includes time at the Minneapolis Institute of Production and Recording; work experience at Taylor Sound; and roles in two bands as a vocalist, a keyboard player, and a programmer—to develop a weekly class around working with sound gear. After Shanafelt got that up and running, The Garage’s teen advisory board offered him a permanent part-time position teaching and engineering live sound.

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Shanafelt explains that learning to use a soundboard can help youth get jobs through The Garage or working at other live shows. It also gives them tactical learning opportunities, as opposed to sitting at a desk listening to a teacher lecture. “This environment is hands-on,” he says, adding that during the first couple sessions of his class he goes over some concepts, but then lets the students tell him what they want out of his class. “They’re learning what they really want to know about,” he says.


Shanafelt had always wanted to do something like what he did for The Garage. In fact he’d already started developing the curriculum. The internship pushed him to follow through. “It definitely gave me a little bit of direction,” he says. “This allowed me to put my best foot forward.”

Shanafelt graduates in December. The Garage’s staff is small, so Shanafelt isn’t sure he’ll ever be more than part-time there, but he hopes to keep the job while implementing similar classes at after-school programs around the Twin Cities.

Youth studies students take a seminar-supported internship that requires them to do more than 100 hours of field work in a youth-focused agency. They also attend an internship class twice a week for about four hours. The fieldwork allows youth studies students to learn from the types of communities where they will apply their major.

“For us it was just assumed that communities and people working with youth would have something to teach,” says Ross VeLure Roholt, an assistant professor in the School Of Social Work and one of the faculty in the youth studies major.

The school has a referral program to help students find a good fit, though VeLure Roholt notes many are already looking for opportunities themselves by the time they reach the course. The classroom component forces students to think critically about what they learn on the job. Often, students bring reactions to situations encountered in their fieldwork into class discussions. Faculty adjust their lesson plans accordingly to help them reflect and grow from actually doing youth work.

“We set it up as a learning experience,” VeLure Roholt says. Many students do turn their experiences into longer-term employment, though there’s no guarantee, and VeLure Roholt doesn’t pitch students on the possibility. Instead, he promotes partnerships the University has built that virtually guarantee students will work with top practitioners in the region in their area of study.

“That’s a big seller,” he says. “The bonus is that they find a job.”

A Passion to Perform
Sara Jo Lehrer, youth studies, ’10


Sara Jo Lehrer was drawn to Patrick’s Cabaret’s dedication to diverse artists. When she found youth programming slim, she put her degree to work.

After studying missions and positions at more than a dozen possible locations for her youth studies internship, Sara Jo Lehrer found herself drawn to Patrick’s Cabaret. The arts have always been a part of Lehrer’s life, so she thought the nonprofit would be a good fit.

“I really connected with their mission,” says Lehrer, whose goal is finding ways that art can create social change.

The mission of Patrick’s Cabaret is to encourage artists of all experience levels to try new things, take risks, or present works in progress. The cabaret’s first commitment is to serve the needs of local performing artists, specifically reaching out to artists of color, GLBT/queer-identified artists, and those with disabilities.

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As a child, Lehrer thought she might one day become a teacher but realized later she didn’t want to work in the public school system. She started looking into youth studies and fell in love with the major, her peers, and her professors in the program.

“It’s just a different take on childhood education or childhood psychology,” she says.

Lehrer started her internship at Patrick’s in February 2009. Throughout that spring semester she did marketing, grant writing, and worked at shows. Her primary responsibility was organizing Patrick’s annual Movies in the Parking Lot program.

She continued working periodically beyond the internship, overseeing the summer movie program she had planned. When her supervisor left for law school, her colleagues asked her to stay.

“I basically knew everything she was doing because I had done it throughout the semester,” says Lehrer, who graduated in May and now is communications and volunteer coordinator.

She’s also incorporating her passion for youth studies. During her internship she noticed a lack of programming aimed at kids, and she’s seeking grant funding to fill that void. Lehrer is developing a program called The Art of Womanhood: Enhancing Young Women’s Development Through Performance Art, through which she hopes to create an open discussion about issues facing young women.

Into the Wild
Nate Benham, ’10, and Cory Dahl, ’09, recreation, park, and leisure studies


Learning by doing—that’s the recreation, park, and leisure studies way. This approach has forged strong connections between current students and alumni in the Minnesota parks and recreation field and created job opportunities for graduates. Wilderness Inquiry, a nonprofit aimed at making adventure travel accessible to people of all skill levels, is one such organization that works closely with the program and its director Connie Magnuson.

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Last year, Nate Benham and his outdoor programming classmates each planned trip itineraries and presented them to the organization’s board for possible inclusion in the next Wilderness Inquiry brochure. Benham’s destination was selected, and he was hired to guide the ten-day trip he planned to the Grass River in Manitoba, Canada—a locale known for its fishing, nature, and scenery.

“It was awesome,” he says of his experience co-leading the excursion. “It was a pretty big trip. There were tons of people.” Throughout the trip, Benham and the travelers enjoyed the fruits of a couple successful walleye fishermen among the group. Spectacular Northern Lights provided another trip highlight.

“That class sparked my interest,” he says of the outdoor programming course, adding that one of the biggest helps was learning different leadership styles he could use in coordinating more than a dozen people with different personalities.” Learning those different styles helped me deal with different scenarios we came across.”

Benham, who expects to graduate this spring, was required to do an internship as part of the recreation major. Wilderness Inquiry gave him the option of doing a true internship or taking a trail staff position, which was right up his alley. Benham has worked as a canoe guide with different companies focused primarily on able-bodied individuals. He finds great satisfaction in working with people who have disabilities at Wilderness Inquiry, where he continues to lead day trips as he approaches graduation.

“With W.I. there was never [a question of] ‘what can’t this person do’ ever,” Benham says. “They say ‘no’ to no one. … Everyone deserves to have this experience.”

Cory Dahl had a similar experience after transferring to the University in 2008 to pursue a recreation degree. He’s had lifelong connections to the outdoors and to working with people who have disabilities. He learned of Wilderness Inquiry through one of many opportunities the recreation, park, and leisure program offered for site visits with local professionals.

The organization had openings for trail staff while he was looking for internships, so he guided several family-based programs, including through Yellowstone National Park. When he graduated in December 2009, he learned that Wilderness Inquiry had an assistant director opening and decided to apply. He started coordinating volunteer and internship opportunities in February. “It’s never too early to get involved outside of school,” Dahl says of his internship.

Before starting an internship, recreation, park, and leisure studies students must complete volunteer and service learning hours in the field. The nine-credit internships require 405 hours of work. Though students can choose their workplace, Magnuson steers them toward sites that offer them diverse opportunities. The program has no classroom component, but she requires students to provide written goals and objectives early in the internship and write both midterm and final analyses of their progress, experiences, and skill development.

Preparation is critical for both the student experience and for the organizations where they work, with which the University has worked hard to forge ongoing relationships.

“The more responsibility the students have, the better place they are going to be in terms of being more marketable when they finish,” Magnuson says. “I want them to walk out with more than just a paper that says (they’ve) completed the degree.”

This article first appeared in Connect, the magazine of the College of Education and Human Development.
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