Internships are valuable to students in helping them connect their classroom learning experiences with the real world and, most importantly, in helping them find jobs when they graduate. The School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, through the LSU College of Agriculture, has stepped up its efforts to provide internships for its students. Wenqing Xu, assistant professor, is in charge of coordinating the school’s internships. Here is her first-person account of the program in action:
It was a typical hot August day in Louisiana. Even before dawn at 5 a.m., the air felt sticky. We took a van and departed from the LSU AgCenter, heading toward Summit, Mississippi. The director of the internship program for the College of Agriculture, another faculty member and I were on our way to Sanderson Farms for a day of summer intern presentations and a lunch banquet. It was a three-hour drive, and I was nervous during the entire trip. Two of my undergraduate students participated in the summer intern program and had been with the company for 12 weeks. What made me nervous was that neither of them was outspoken in class and one was even a little shy. It is not easy to present in front of a company leadership team, about 80 fellow interns from 16 surrounding universities and colleges and a dozen faculty members from those institutions.
The students went one-by-one on stage to present what they learned during the internship. Some students had PowerPoint presentations. Some read from prepared notes, while others seemed uncomfortable in the moment and had difficulty addressing so many people. Guest faculty from the students’ home universities showed their support with shouts of encouragement. During this time I sat in anticipation with my fingers crossed, hoping my students would deliver a solid presentation, which later turned out to be worrying for nothing.
Both students walked to the podium with contagious confidence. Slides were professionally done, and the speeches were intriguing. They talked about their experience at the food processing plant where they learned how to apply classroom knowledge to the real world. They talked about the communication skills they learned that enabled them to work with supervisors and fellow employees. They talked about one or two moments when they had to make decisions, which gave them a taste of leadership. I was completely blown away. They demonstrated everything we taught them in school: solid food science knowledge and processing techniques, clear and effective communication, being a team player and being a leader. Proud cannot describe how I felt at that moment. It was the internship experience that provided the opportunity to put what they have learned through higher education to practice and refine. They polished up their knowledge and skills to make them shine.
It was an amazing feeling when the CEO of the company sought me out at the lunch banquet and told me how great these two students were. The company not only promised them job opportunities when they graduated, but also decided to offer LSU students housing support from now on to attract more “motivated students like these two girls to join the summer internship program.” As you can imagine, my three-hour drive home was filled with happiness and pride.
Wenqing Xu, assistant professor, is the consumer food safety specialist and faculty liaison for internships in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences.
(This article appears in the fall 2019 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Wenqing Xu, assistant professor and coordinator of internships in the School of Nutrition and Food Science, center, arranged the internships and attended the final presentations of these two students — Metabell Bowser, left, and Andanté Price — during the summer of 2017 internship at Sanderson Farms in Summit, Mississippi. Photo provided by Wenqing Xu