Takeaways from my 40-hour Internship and UNIV*3140 | Ontario Agricultural College

Takeaways from my 40-hour Internship and UNIV*3140

Posted on Wednesday, August 26th, 2020

Written by E'layna Baker, OAC Communications Intern

In my third year of studies, I had the amazing opportunity to enroll in an experiential learning course here at U of G: UNIV*3140 – Flexible Internships in Agri-Food. 

I was notified the day before classes started that there was one more space left in UNIV*3140, and jumped to enroll. I read details about the course online and was so blown away that an opportunity like this exists! This new course offers students hands-on coaching to secure a job placement and succeed in the placement. The course also gave me an opportunity to gain real work experience in the industry. I quickly dropped one of my courses and enrolled in this one. 

That was one of the best course selection choices I’ve made! 

If you are thinking about enrolling in UNIV*3140 or another experiential learning course, this blog post may be very beneficial to you. Read on to learn more about what I learned in UNIV*3140 and my internship experience. 

But first, what is experiential learning? 

Experiential learning can mean many different things, but in this course it aims to expose students to workplace environments or other settings that will provide them an opportunity to apply the new knowledge, skills and abilities they’ve gained in the classroom. 

This approach engages students as much as possible, while pushing us to deeply reflect on our learning and experiences. This is so beneficial for our professional and personal development because it makes it easier for us to think about our future selves and the opportunities we hope to pursue. 

Find out more about experiential learning here.

What is UNIV*3140?

The UNIV course code stands for Interdisciplinary University and 3140 is offered to upper year students (in semesters 5, 6 or 7). 

This course allowed me to get valuable work experience in the agri-food industry while learning, in detail, about important professional skills. These included writing a strong resume and cover letter, interview preparation and how to conduct myself on the job. I also learned a great deal about the agri-food industry in Canada and globally, including production and consumption trends, industry stakeholders, food and beverage processing facts, and so much more!

A key feature of this course is the required internship component. These internships can be either paid or unpaid depending on the company that you are hired by. I went through the process of writing a unique cover letter and resume for a company and participated in an interview with them. 

Ultimately, I was selected to complete a 40-hour internship at an agri-food consulting and communications agency called Synthesis Agri-Food Network, located right here in Guelph! This company is made up of agri-food experts who know the industry and provide solutions to the problems other companies and organizations in the industry face. Also, a lot of the work they do promotes effective communication and engagement in the sector. While working with the company, I had exposure to organizational social media, communications plans and business strategy. From the time of my interview to the completion of my internship, I learned so much . 

Find out more about UNIV*3140 here

Also, feel free to reach out to Danica Matovic, Internship Specialist and UNIV*3140 Co-Instructor at matovic@uoguelph.ca She was very helpful and supportive in guiding students through the internship requirements and providing us with resources to succeed in our roles.

Internship Takeaway #1: Asking for an opportunity is okay.

For this particular course, internship opportunities are made available to students on Experience Guelph (EG). However, Danica encouraged us to do something called ‘cold calling’ or ‘cold emailing’ if there was a company we were interested in working for that was not posted on the site. Despite the rich options that were available on EG – from agri-food sales and marketing to food science to procurement and more – I didn’t see any options I was particularly interested in. 

I did some personal research on the agri-food firms in the area, and that’s when I found Synthesis. From the company website I learned about the services they provide, and I was able to draft a resume and cover letter for an internship role with them. 

Another important feature of this course were the lessons about building a strong resume. Because of this, I was able to adjust my resume to link to the company’s goals, without looking at a job description. I sent out an email to the company, with my resume and cover letter. I briefly explaining the UNIV*3140 course, my program, and a few reasons why Synthesis stood out to me as it relates to my career goals. I was honestly not expecting to get a response, because I never thought about cold emailing as an effective strategy for securing an opportunity like this. But, I was pleasantly surprised when the company contacted me asking to schedule an interview. 

This unexpected experience really taught me the value of going after new opportunities, even if it means humbly asking for an opportunity that seems unavailable.

Internship Takeaway #2: Preparing for interviews are important  

I have plenty of experience participating in interviews for various jobs and extracurricular positions. I was never the type to stress about an interview, and would usually go into an interview will little to no preparation. I was scared that if I over-thought it or prepared too much I would come off as robotic and rehearsed. However, the UNIV*3140 course gave me an opportunity to critically think about the interview process as an opportunity to market myself, while also showing my understanding of what the company needs. 

In interviews I always worried about leaving a good impression and showing who I am, but through this course I was able to recognize that my words in an interview shouldn’t entirely be about me. Preparing for an interview should include learning about the job requirements, the company goals, past successes, and community involvement. All of these can be handy for including in your question responses. Not to mention, your research can often lead you to points that relate back to yourself and your experiences! 

Internship Takeaway #3: Internships are for my development 

I feel like the whole internship experience was a chance for me to introspectively evaluate all my strengths and weaknesses. I was in a completely new environment, with a company that took a chance on me and they expected me to do my best. I think it’s important to note that they didn’t expect the very best from me, but instead wanted my best. That is a key distinction. 

I was not expected to get everything right or be the expert in the room, but I was expected to challenge myself and learn from the projects I was working on. I think that’s important to remember about an internship. Knowing that it was a learning experience guided me to pay attention to everything I felt, saw and heard while on the job. I looked for a learning opportunity in all situations, and this is exactly what internships are for!

Internship Takeaway #4: Professional communications skills are important for effective social media 

I think that it is exciting to purposefully engage with others and to consider the uniqueness of each message we send out into the world.

I learned that I must always be mindful of guidelines for social media content when speaking on behalf of an organization or a specific ad campaign. Every interaction made on professional accounts – every like, retweet, posting – was not a reflection of myself, but of an organization with its own characteristics and beliefs. 

I learned to think objectively and not let my opinions get in the way of communicating with brand goals or organizational messaging. This is especially important today as businesses interact with clients, customers and each other on social media more and more. Even before putting something out there on personal accounts I always find myself asking, “What message am I sending with this post?”

Internship Takeaway #5: Flexible learning is vital for growth 

I now understand that it is important to let learning be a continual process, and to be flexible in my decision making or approach to solving problems. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a flexible mind, one that is not only able to learn, but can un-learn and re-learn.  

Often the problems we face in our academic, professional and social lives aren’t an issue of choosing the right way or the wrong way. There are often many ways to do your best in completing a task, and a flexible mind is key when approaching problems that don’t have clear-cut solutions.

Internship Takeaway #6: A well-rounded perspective is vital to influence

In order to accomplish something, you must first have a strategy, a plan of action, some sort of road map that tells you how you are going to get where you want to be. 

I consider myself a strategic person, but only when it comes to my own life choices. It was a whole new learning curve to think about how to be strategic to reach others’ goals.

It is one thing to understand the dynamics of the agri-food sector (or any field you hope to pursue). But mastering how to blend knowledge, facts and experiences together to form a plan of action to help others achieve a goal is a powerful skill. And one that I definitely hope to have some day.

The lead strategist at Synthesis stressed the importance of staying up-to-date on business news and happenings, so that recommendations he provides are relevant and based on a well-rounded perspective. Now I know that to influence the future I must become as knowledgeable as I can about different perspectives. It’s also important to hone my ability to consider these perspectives and how they can be applied to the problems I hope to solve.

My internship experience was all-around enriching and educational. Upon starting the Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics program, I was not sure what direction I wanted to go in terms of career. The UNIV*3140 course and its internship component have given me another opportunity to expose myself to new sides of the industry and the careers available to me after graduation.

In all of your upcoming internship opportunities, walk into it knowing that it is a learning experience. Turn your lessons into stepping-stones that will guide you to becoming a more well-rounded grad who is ready for any challenge in the workplace!

In this series of blog posts, OAC students take us through some of the ups and downs of their journeys at the University of Guelph.

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