Internships = Inspiration + Relationships
By Ashlie A. Tagawa Mohr, HR Manager at Tagawa Greenhouse Enterprises LLC
The internship program starts with our Intern Committee, a group of six leaders from different departments that help screen and make suggestions for the internship program. We have had the pleasure of participating with the American Floral Endowment Internship program for more than 10 years, and even today I would say 80% to 90% of interns come through the AFE program. We also have contacts at universities who will often refer students to us for intern positions.
If you’re looking at creating your own internship program, it’s always good to make sure there’s a lot of buy-in across the organization to support the program. Not only do we have our Intern Committee, but I create the detailed schedule based on the existing work load of each department. Then I contact each of the department managers to make sure they are ready. Because we have good buy-in, managers are usually very open and ready to describe to students what they do.
Setting expectations from the get-go and having an open conversation amongst your teams as well as with the interns is probably the best way to make it effective for everyone. It’s important for the students to know what an internship can offer them. In turn, we need to think about what kind of interns we want in our organization.
- If I could go back to the beginning of my career, what would I want to know to be successful in my line of work?
- What opportunities are in our organization that could be missed by students if they didn’t realize they were available?
- What do we want students to think of our company and share about our company?
- What kind of students are we looking to accept within the program?
- What kind of demographic would be interested?
- What kind of program would best serve the students or those wanting to join our business?
Internships Strengthen our Organizations & Industry
By Nicholas Giaquinto, Conservatory Horticulturist at Denver Botanic Gardens
The purpose of our internship program is to provide amazing educational experiences for the interns. Our primary goal is to introduce them to how a public garden operates through cooperation with different departments and how we curate our permanent collections. Our aim is also to develop their horticultural skills with a focus on their major and what they want to do after they finish college.
For the past decade, our internships have been project based, which means interns are hired to help support projects that are important enough to DBG to complete
We also look for people who are upbeat and willing to talk to the public. An excellent guest experience is a top priority for Denver Botanic Gardens and having interns who are comfortable working in the public ensures that.
Finding the right intern for the right job can sometimes be a challenge. We ask the prospective interns to rank the top three internship projects that interest them on their applications. Then, we consider if that is a correct fit for them based on their interviews and their experience. Sometimes we feel they would be stronger in their second or third choices, so we put them there. Usually at the end of the internship, they say how that worked out for the better.
To set the intern up for a successful experience, we send a couple of informative emails to them before they start. In the first week, there is a lot of onboarding and orientation. We try to ease them into their work schedule before presenting them with their projects.
A lot of planning goes into preparing for interns. We try to get all of our schedules done pretty early before they start. Mondays are an ‘Intern Alternate Work Experience.’ In the morning, interns rotate to different gardens and work with horticulturists who are not involved in their projects. In the afternoon, they have a Rocky Mountain Plants Class where they learn about plant families that are significant to the Rocky Mountain Region. The day concludes with a plant walk showing the plants that they learned about in the gardens.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are usually when the interns work with their mentors on specific projects. Fridays are for field trips to different areas of Colorado with other mentors or other horticulturalists who don’t have interns. The trips range from hiking in natural lands to visiting other public gardens to give interns a range of educational experiences.
Another key to successful internships is viewing each person as an individual. Interns have different styles and it is helpful to match that with the right mentors. You can’t just work the same with everybody. We have a good framework but mentors and interns need to talk it out to make sure they are on the same page with expectations.
Internships are a lot of work for the organization and the mentors. I have had amazing internship experiences, which is why I am passionate in coordinating DBG’s internships. We as an organization might not get a benefit right away, but it happens in time for either the institution you’re working for or the industry in general.
Some interns have come back as seasonal workers over time, and some have even become full-time employees and had long careers here. The return of those experienced people and the contributions that past interns make throughout their careers make our efforts worth it. Our internships as a whole strengthen our industry and public horticulture.