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Internships offer practical experience

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What’s the riskiest thing a company can do?

“Hire people,” Lisa Courtney, vice president of human resources at TeamHealth, said.

But internships reduce that risk, she said.

An internship allows a company to work with a soon-to-be college graduate or recent graduate for a short period of time without long-term commitment. The company learns the intern’s work ethic and skill set during the internship.

“In many instances, we find that their skill set is so good that when we get an opening, we allow the intern to take that opening,” Courtney said.

Courtney estimated that TeamHealth has hired six interns in the past 10 years for human resources or human resource-related positions.

Many of the TeamHealth interns are recommended by Debbie Mackey, University of Tennessee Society of Human Resources Management faculty advisor. She connects students to internships in their area of interest to fill any real-world experience gaps students may have.

“An internship is the area where students get the practical application of what they’ve learned,” Mackey said. “You can’t read in a book and say, ‘I want to do this for the rest of my life.’ If you don’t complete an internship, you are lacking (practical application.)”

Oak Ridge National Laboratory uses educational programs of various levels, beginning in high school, to build excitement around science, technology, engineering and math related fields, said Ian Anderson, ORNL director of graduate education and university partnerships.

“Students have no idea what happens in government labs,” Anderson said. “It’s important to keep a level of excitement at a high school age.”

At the college age, ORNL has anywhere from 300 to 1,000 undergraduate program participants at a given time. Post bachelor’s programs, post doctorate programs and faculty internships also are available. Anderson said scientific training should begin as early as possible.

“We need to be training the scientists of the future,” he said. “The PhDs that we are going to hire to work at the lab, that training starts very early, hence the high school and undergraduate programs. It flows from high school to undergraduate to graduate to post doc and then working at ORNL.”

ORNL works to stay connected to students in its undergraduate programs, like the Challenge Program. Students apply for the program by explaining how they would solve a given problem the lab is working on. Students that win are invited to do research in the lab.

From there, students have a chance to stay connected with ORNL programs as they continue their education.

“We purposely connect students with universities that we’re partnered with so that we would stay connected,” Anderson said.

He also said the STEM field is hard to understand without hands-on experience. Out of ORNL’s 4,500 employees, Anderson said approximately 2,000 PhD students are conducting research. There also are roughly 300 post-doc graduates involved at the lab.”

Outside a place like this, it is very difficult to get access to some of the capabilities we have,” Anderson said. “You really get the feel of what research is here. The students here are engaged in the research. Very few students get the opportunity to understand research programs we have, and internships for students open their eyes.”

Internships act not only as an application process for the intern, but also for the employer. Courtney said she has seen interns come in eager to learn and realize the work is not how it seemed in class.

“They realize, ‘Oh my goodness, in the textbook this is great, but in application it’s not what I thought it would be,’ ” Courtney said.

For the full text of this article, click here to visit the Knoxville News Sentinel website.