Student Interns Help Rural Employers Reach Goals
Written by Kirsten Chang
The City of Kinston has a problem to solve. As a small town in rural eastern North Carolina, its workforce is starting to retire, and there are fewer and fewer young people stepping up to take public service jobs.
As part of the solution, the city wanted to educate local students about the careers they could have in public services. Shira Wolf-Camplin, a social work student at NC State University, helped the City of Kinston work toward that goal as a summer intern through NC State’s Rural Works! program.
Rural Works! places NC State students in summer internships with rural employers across the state. Employers create the internship position and come up with goals and a job description, and Rural Works! recruits applicants from a talented pool of NC State undergraduate and graduate students of all majors. This collaboration supports the university’s commitment to social, economic, and technological development across the state.
Shira spent the summer designing and piloting a summer camp to teach young people in Kinston about potential career paths with the city. The camp included an engineering scavenger hunt around the city, STEM activities like building bridges, and tours of some of the public service units.
This may not be the typical internship for a social work major. But Shira can see how the experience will help her in the long run.
“In terms of… coming in and seeing an issue and figuring out how to solve that in a way that affects the entire community, I would consider that kind of macro level social work,” she said.
For the City of Kinston, Shira’s contribution this summer will have far-reaching benefits.
“The student program thing was something kind of special that came up this year, and I think that’s going to have some long-term benefits for our department and the city,” said Steve Miller, Assistant Public Services Director for the City of Kinston.
In 2019, 41 interns worked alongside rural employers in 30 counties to reach their workplace goals. Student interns have improved efficiency and productivity, designed processes and websites, and performed important manual labor for rural employers across the state.
“This is a perfect win-win opportunity—for NC State students and their employers in rural NC,” said NC State’s Office of Outreach and Engagement Vice Provost Leslie Boney. “Employers get some valuable short-term help over the summer and a good early look at potential future employees; students get a great hands-on chance to apply some of what they are learning in the classroom and get to see some of the terrific opportunities rural employers offer.”
Timberline LLC, a manufacturer in Henderson, NC, is one of those employers. President Gary Norberg has hosted Rural Works! interns for two summers now. This summer, one of the interns was an engineering student who helped analyze and improve the company’s business processes.
“I was able to give her some general directions, teach her what we’re currently doing, [and] give her some objectives, and she was very independent in her accomplishment of the goals,” said Gary. “I set a pretty high bar with my expectations, and we probably completed about 85% of the objectives, and that was 110% of what I actually expected to accomplish. Frankly, it was remarkable. I was very pleased and impressed with the amount of independence that I could give them.”
Steve Schroeder, owner of American Webbing and Fittings in Winston-Salem, was also impressed by the know-how of his Rural Works! student intern. Edward Byers, a sophomore textile engineering major, spent his summer improving the looms that create the webbing. Edward invented a feature that helped with the tensioning of the webbing so that it didn’t get matted up.
“I think our head mechanic was really sad when [he] went back to school,” said Steve. “He did a real good job, he really did.”
For Edward, seeing the way a small business runs is helpful to his future plans of someday owning his own business.
“I really enjoyed the internship, and it gave me a good viewpoint on how a smaller company works,” said Edward.
Now entering its third year, Rural Works! seeks employers in rural counties that can provide valuable experiences to students of all majors.
“I am excited for Rural Works! to continue to grow and look forward to working with new employers across NC,” said Rebekah Dunstan, NC State University Rural Outreach Coordinator.