my internship experience

Eyes Wide Open: Opportunities, and Internships, are Everywhere

Looking at the three men seated around the table strewn with coffee cups, papers, eyeglasses and laptops, they appear colleagues at ease with each other as they discuss concepts and toss out ideas. The one in the middle looks a bit younger than the other two, though. He doesn't sport a wedding ring like his comrades, and there's something about the way he seems to be absorbing every detail of the interaction that sets him just the tiniest bit apart. He may have a seat at the table, but Samuel Moore is actually a Colby-Sawyer senior completing his internship requirement.

Moore, a Graphic Design major and Business Administration minor from Loudon, N.H., usually spends the summer working on his family's 160-acre farm, caring for sheep, beef cows and chickens, harvesting hay and operating the farm stand. Not so this year, when he was an assistant designer for three months at Birchtree Creative Services in Gilford, N.H. Birchtree is a full-service design firm specializing in print, web and digital media that works closely with clients through each step of their project.

He's Got Personality

At Colby-Sawyer College, 98 percent of students complete an internship in their major, combining their skills learned in the classroom with practical, hands-on experiences that can't be gained elsewhere. Twenty-three percent of those students are hired by the companies where they complete their internships. Students have a variety of resources when it comes to finding internships, including the Harrington Center for Experiential Learning for Career Development, alumni of the college and faculty connections. Sam Moore, though, did it all on his own.

When he read last year about a new media complex opening near him, he checked their list of tenants and stumbled across Birchtree Creative Services. When it came time to apply for an internship this spring, he included them in his inquiries.

“I sent them an e-mail explaining who I was and inquiring about the availability of a summer internship,” says Moore, a Wesson Honors scholar. “They requested samples of my design work, and then I had a phone interview during which we discussed what I was looking for and my level of experience. An onsite interview was the final step, and the paperwork was signed shortly after. This experience really proved that it's important to keep your eyes open as you never know what slight connection is going to get you the experience you are looking for.”

Sam wasn't the only student who had hopes of joining the Birchtree team to gain experience, but his personality won them over.

“In a creative environment, you have to work with a team, and certain personalities are not open to collaboration,” says Shawn Dixon, a partner in Birchtree Creative. “Sam showed us that he was interested in watching what we do, and felt comfortable contributing when appropriate. He understood that the process is organic, and we are all doing our best to keep things going. Good design skills can be taught to just about anyone, but if you do not have an open minded personality, working in a creative industry can be difficult. It is all about exploring options, and finding the best option for your clients.”

Learning the Ropes, Testing Skills

At a small company that offers a variety of services, Moore learned about nearly every business and creative aspect of a design firm. Client and market research, writing copy and headlines for projects, logo and stationery design, and assisting with creative concept development for several large marketing campaigns were among his duties, and Moore says that having a willingness to learn and ask questions was essential.

“The team at Birchtree basically gave me an all-access pass in return for my flexibility and self-motivation,” he says. Design sense and a good knowledge of Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop were also important for completing assigned work, as well as a professional attitude for interaction with clients.

“My experience at Birchtree was an excellent test of the skills developed through my academic studies. The knowledge gained from my Typography and Publication Design classes were important, and the emphasis on a good concept and the practice writing copy from Advertising and Promotional Design proved invaluable.”

Using his skills in a work setting allowed Moore to compare his abilities with those of design professionals, and helped him identify areas he can focus on in his last year at Colby-Sawyer.

“Sam has been a quick learner and provided valuable input in our growth,” wrote Ryan Pogue, Moore's client concepts and business mentor, in an e-mail to Moore's academic advisor, Professor of Fine and Performing Arts Loretta Barnett.

Moore's input impressed Dixon, as well, who says, “Critiquing work can be one of the most stressful and difficult aspects of collaboration. It needs to be done in a forward thinking and proactive way … and we have to put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer or target audience in order to feel comfortable with our end presentation. Sam was able to see the different perspectives that we needed when called upon. That is not an easy task, and he did it well. Sam would be a great asset to any organization. He has great people skills, which are very important when it comes to managing a team or a client.”

One of the best aspects of his internship was Moore's involvement in working on projects for two large prospective clients. Birchtree's mission was to pitch an extensive marketing campaign concept against other agencies, and Moore enjoyed being part of a collaborative team.

“Several days were spent bouncing concepts off one another and brainstorming visuals, message, and presentation of the campaign we were creating. It was exciting to see the creative process in full force and the amount of work a group of creative minds can accomplish when everyone plays their part,” says Moore. “I was able to make some solid contributions on both projects, and even got to sit in on the pitch to each client. We ultimately won both clients and brought in a lot of new business, continuing to establish Birchtree Creative Services as an up-and-coming player in the region's creative industry.”

Being a part of the creation process from the beginning made clear the differences between completing a college assignment, and taking a customer's request from idea to finished product.

“Professors create projects that are meant to teach certain concepts and develop specific skills. They give you the size of the project, how many pages, and quite often what information must be included. Most clients don't spell things out so clearly. It is the designer's job to take an 'I need a brochure' request and work with the client to determine just what that actually means and what sort of piece is going to be most effective for their business.”

A Future in Design

Moore says his experiences at Birchtree Creative Services confirmed his career plans in two ways.

“Birchtree Creative Services is exactly the type of firm I see myself being a part of after graduation,” he says. “Based in central New Hampshire but serving clients across the country, they combine the design power and capabilities of a large advertising agency while maintaining the client service and individual attention of the smaller design shops. Also, I really respect the company's philosophies on design and business. I really worked well with the Birchtree team, and during the academic year I will be doing freelance design work for them with the possibility of a full-time position becoming available after graduation in May.”

A good memory and eye for opportunity, a lot of motivation, and plenty of talent made Samuel Moore's required internship much more than something to check off on his To Do Before Graduating list – it's confirmed his passion and opened doors for life after Colby-Sawyer. As for the value of the internship experience, Moore is unequivocal in his support of the requirement.

“Sometimes students get frustrated trying to find an internship; it's tough to get a grasp on what opportunities are out there when you're trying to manage the rigors of academia,” Moore concedes.

“Ultimately, however, getting out into the real world is easier as an intern, when you have some resources to work with and are looking for a learning experience, not necessarily a paid position. Not only can students gain knowledge and experience that makes them more attractive to potential employers, but they also are better equipped to manage the job search when graduation rolls around and they must find real work.”