my internship experience

Aubrey Thomas '09, a Communication Studies major and Business Administration minor from Lincolnville, Maine, spent nearly two months as an intern with the Belfast [Maine] Area Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit organization focused on helping business in the Belfast area. Thomas' previous work experience was at a bed and breakfast, a restaurant and a supermarket; she had never worked in an office environment until this summer.

On campus, Thomas is part of the Wesson Honors Program and co-editor of the program's newsletter, and serves as a Resident Assistant. She is a member of Alpha Chi National Honors Society and Lambda Pi Eta National Honors Society, and studied for a semester in Perth, Australia , where she joined the Perth Undergraduate Choral Society.

How did you find this internship opportunity?

When I started looking for an internship I wasn't sure what I was interested in for a career, but I knew I wanted to work in a field that utilized both my major in Communication Studies and my minor in Business Administration. I went to the Harrington Center for Experiential Learning for Career Development, and Kathy Taylor, the director of career development & internships, suggested that I consider my local Chamber of Commerce. Belfast is the next town over from mine so I emailed its Chamber of Commerce and explained that I wanted a quality internship that would give me a lot of experience. They were interested and hired me as their very first intern!

The application process was actually quite confusing because I was studying in Australia and could only make arrangements through email. Luckily it all came together before I flew home and I was prepared to start my internship. It worked well, and I certainly gained a new perspective on my coastal Maine home.

What were your responsibilities as an intern?

My duties were to help maintain the office along with two other staff members and a contracted accountant, update the website and spreadsheets, coordinate requests for guides, manage inquiries, and help the staff, accountant and board members with projects and events.

What skills were required?

Excellent written and verbal communication skills were vital, along with being well organized and self-motivated, willing to collaborate with staff, community and chamber members and board of directors, being comfortable in diverse settings, and having a willingness to help with a variety of tasks.

How does this internship intersect with your studies at Colby-Sawyer?

The Chamber certainly gave me a real-life example of what I have studied at Colby-Sawyer. Its focus on using media to communicate with the community provided insight into how I can apply skills I have learned in my Communication Studies classes. It was also exciting to see how the board of directors and staff interacted to keep the Chamber productive; the organization certainly pulled together everything I have learned in my business classes.

Many courses helped me with my internship, including Desktop Publishing; Marketing; Management; Writing for Public Communication; Introduction to Organizations; and Interpersonal Communication.

What challenges did you face, and what triumphs did you enjoy, during your internship?

Since I was never able to talk with them on the phone, I had no idea how they would perceive me, and vice versa. My first day was not what I expected - they had actually forgotten that I was coming in, so it was kind of upsettin! Within the week, though, they had showed me what I needed to do to help manage the office.

There were a few days after I finished updating the Chamber database when I did not have much to do. It was frustrating that I could not be productive for them. That was probably because they had never had an intern before and weren't always sure what they wanted me to do. I learned very quickly that if I wanted to keep busy I needed to look at what I could do to benefit the organization.

One of my favorite days was within the first couple weeks, when the staff and executive director invited me to join their meetings. It was interesting to follow their agenda and see how events and ideas can be put together by just a handful of people. Within these meetings were a business proposal, brochure analysis, event organization, some funding ideas, and more. Later that day the executive director asked if I could attend their Boat Building Challenge meeting with the committee members and take minutes. I immediately learned that night how to quickly learn names and record important information as fast as possible. A month later, I helped with the event, and I really enjoyed seeing something that began as an idea on paper happen in real life.

What did you learn during your internship that might be useful in your professional life?

I learned very quickly that unlike being a student, working for a salary means that you need to get your job done in the best way possible, and that “way” will not be outlined for you. I have always been good at doing what I'm told to do with assignments, but having to tell myself what to do in order to achieve my goals for the week was at first very strange.

I also observed the other two staff members a lot, and saw that some days they communicated with other businesses through email, while other days they decided they needed to physically tend to the needs of businesses. They had a lot to do with only so much time, and they were the ones that set priorities in order to achieve the goals of the Chamber.

When you talk to your friends and family about your internship, what do you tell them?

I tell them that I got the opportunity to meet a lot of the local business owners, Chamber volunteers, and board members. I really enjoyed meeting people and seeing how they all came together to make the Chamber successful. I also saw how its focus on the local economy was very important to the Belfast area, especially in this time of instability.

Do you think this internship will lead to employment with the company after graduation?

Because it is such a small staff, I do not think the Chamber will have a full-time position open when I graduate. I could certainly see myself working for a Chamber of Commerce, though, because I respect their focus on small businesses and the environment. I like that they are non-profit, and the Belfast Chamber truly cares about helping its members as much as possible. I learned that I do not mind working in an office as long as I am productive.

I also realized that if I did work in a similar field, I would want to help with desktop publishing and website. I enjoy helping in this area because tourists will find businesses with the most professional look the most promising.

Please list other internships or other activities related to your major/studies.

I found that my position as a Resident Assistant helped me in my internship because I was more prepared for whatever inquiries people may have. I could also manage several situations in a responsible manner because I had already been in such a position. It surprised me that being an RA would help me so much in the workplace, even though Residential Education pointed this out long ago!

Is Colby-Sawyer's requirement of completing an internship beneficial?

I think that not only is an internship beneficial, it is crucial in order to prepare students for the real world. The most important asset a student has is his or her skills, not just their GPA. Students need to learn to handle the pressure of a career and make their own decisions instead of waiting to be told what to do. I had never been in this sort of workplace before, and it gave me the opportunity to put everything I have learned at Colby-Sawyer together and use my knowledge and skills.