Mentorship program leads to a purrrfect internship

The jump from college student to working professional is difficult at best, but Taylor Olson, senior business administration major from Minnesota, has made the transition smoothly thanks to Union College’s Division of Business and Computer Science mentorship program.

An internship is part of the curriculum for business administration majors and at the end of her junior year Olson had not successfully found one. “I knew I needed an internship, but nothing ever worked out,” said Olson. “I ended up finding the perfect place through the mentorship program.”

According to Barry Forbes, chair of the Division of Business and Computer Science, the mentorship program is designed to connect students with professionals who are active in the students’ field of interest from the Lincoln community. “We want students to know what lies ahead before they graduate and be prepared to succeed,” Forbes said. “Professional mentors provide that inside perspective and help students make the connections necessary to reach their goals.”

Students applying to the mentorship program are vetted by faculty and professionals from the community through a rigorous application process, which includes defining personal goals through essays and interviews. During Olson’s interview, she outlined a clear objective—she is preparing for a career that integrates her passion for animals in a non-profit setting.

After Olson finished her application process, the mentorship committee set about finding the right match. “We never had a mentor before who was involved with both non-profit work and animals,” Forbes said. “I called the Capital Humane Society to see if anyone there was interested. The executive director, Robert Downey, didn’t know anything about Union prior to my call, but he very graciously agreed to help.”

Olson had no idea what she was getting into when she met Downey for the first time at the mentorship kick-off dinner. “He was the perfect gentleman, he followed rules of etiquette I didn’t even know existed,” said Olson. “The respect he gave me, a college student, was impressive, it told me more about his character than could have been explained in one dinner.”

Olson was excited when she found out that her mentor worked at the Capital Humane Society. “It was the perfect fit, it’s a non-profit that works with animals. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to have a mentor,” Olson said.

At their fifth meeting Olson brought her resume for him to critique. “It was terrifying,” Olson said, “he looked at it for several moments and made a few non descript hmms. I thought for sure that he was making the list of things to do and or write to make it better, but instead he asked if I wanted a paid internship. He was impressed with the leadership roles I had recorded, and I know Union had a huge part in giving me the experiences I needed to get this amazing opportunity.”

Olson’s first day on the job she got to see the back holding area where puppies are kept before they can be adopted out. The puppies came over and she was petting and talking with them when she noticed a really big puppy with horns. “It really surprised me when I realized there was a goat with the puppies,” said Olson. “Mr. Downey had told me that occasionally farm animals come in, but I thought they would stay in the barn out back. Bronco [the goat] didn't look so thrilled to be with the yapping puppies.”

As the events and activities coordinator intern for the summer, there is no such thing as a typical day at work for Olson. One day she may visit schools and daycares with dogs to teach the children about animal care and to give them the chance to interact with animals in a safe environment. On another she will be planning the two big events for the summer; Adopt a Cat Month and a three-day Girl Scout camp.

Throughout the month of June, Olson had complete ownership over a series of events and initiatives to increase cat adoption, and in July she planned a three-day Girl Scout camp focusing on caring for pets that included guest experts in animal behavior, obedience, grooming and health.

“The girls were amazing. I have never worked with a more obedient group of children,” said Olson. “Each of the girls deserved their animal care/handling badge at the end of the camp.”

Not only did Olson gain valuable work experience she also made an impact on the office too. Every month the office films Critter Corner, a TV show for a local channel that showcases animals up for adoption. Everyone else refused to hold the rats so Olson offered to hold them for the camera, earning her the nickname Rodent Girl.

During her first week working in the office the photocopier broke. When Olson, who had worked as the manager of a copier center, went to fix it the issue, her supervisor told Olson she didn’t need to try to fix it because she wasn’t the one who broke it. “I told her that I had several years of experience,” said Olson. “The look on her face was priceless. She told me to ‘fix it if you can.’” Fixing the copier earned Olson a second nickname, Copier Queen.

It’s not just all work and no play either. Olson routinely attends Lincoln Salt Dog (local baseball team) games with a dog in tow. “Taking the animals out in public is an extremely important task,” Olson said. “It gets the animals socialized and out of the kennels while reminding people that [the Capitol Humane Society] exists and that animals need homes.”

“I love all of the animals here,” said Olson. “I am thankful everyday for the education and opportunities I get at Union. Because of the mentorship program I was able to work with my passion for animals. This internship has given me confidence to use the skills I learned at Union and it made my education practical.”