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ericEric (’17) is a double majoring in Mathematics and Theatre in the Music Theatre Certificate Program. This summer he was an Ecommerce Analytics Intern at Bluestem Brands Inc. in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Bluestem manages multiple major online retail brands.

Internships are meant to be learning experiences. I consider my internship experience very successful and I think part of that is because I was prepared to step out of my comfort zone to learn as much as I could.

Previously, I had not known myself to be the type of person who learns well by being “thrown into the deep end.” Armed with this knowledge, I was ready to ask a ton of questions to clarify what I was supposed to be doing and how to do it. When I arrived at my internship, however, I found that the program was set up to deliberately throw me into the deep end. My first week I was given access to all the software, databases, and other tools that I would be using over the course of the summer, and then I was told to just spend time playing around with all of the interfaces. I wasn’t given any projects, just time to get familiar with my tools. This method quickly got me up to speed with the programs my team was using and sparked interest in the projects other people were working on. By the end of the week I was relatively confident in my abilities and eager to start doing real work. This learning period eliminated the need for most of my questions, saving my manager a lot of time. Of course, I still had plenty of inquiries, but they were much more specific and well-formed. Being open to this new style of learning taught me a great deal, both about the technical skills needed for my internship and also about the ways in which I can learn effectively.

I was also “thrown into the deep end” by being implanted into a corporate setting – an environment that I had never experienced before. I arguably learned as much about corporate structure and the workplace as I did about data science and analytics, and that knowledge will be incredibly useful for when I inevitably enter into another office setting. Being immersed in the workplace every day taught me countless small lessons that I will carry with me and continue to build upon throughout my entire life. Just listening and observing my coworkers I learned things such as how companies are structured and how that can vary from company to company, how to effectively communicate in a structured setting, simple office etiquette, how to most effectively solve problems in a corporate environment, and the responsibilities that come with being a member of a team.

This last point was crucial to my positive internship experience. After I was brought up to speed on the company as a whole, how my team operated, and the tools necessary to complete my day to day tasks, I was given projects that had a real impact on the company. I never had menial, go-grab-the-coffee type tasks; I was doing work that other people needed in order to do their jobs effectively. This really made me feel at home at Bluestem, like I was a junior member of the team rather than an intern on the outside.

If I had to offer advice to those students seeking internships I would say this:

  1. Find a company with an environment that will suit you. If you want to feel like a peer, make sure you find a company that will make you feel this way. Atmosphere is important.
  2. Don’t be afraid to learn in new ways. By jumping right in and trying everything out I learned a vast amount in a short period of time.
  3. As an intern, the answer is always yes. If someone asks you to take on a new project or complete a task, always say yes. Even if you have too many projects already, say yes, and then qualify. If you don’t know how to do something that is asked of you…
  4. …Ask Questions. I’ve found that everyone is eager to help you out. Remember, internships are learning experiences, so asking questions will help you get the most out of your time.