Student Uses Unique Internship to Explore Leadership Skills

Zac Brown was given the Intern of the Year Award by UK's Stuckert Center.

Published: Mar 12, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Mar 12, 2012) — Zachary Brown worked for six companies in six months. Many employers might think that shows a lack of focus, but there was a method to Brown’s movements, and it was all about focus-on leadership.

Brown, a University of Kentucky senior from Corbin who is majoring in community and leadership development in the College of Agriculture, spent six months of his college career interning for widely diverse companies. The college encourages internships as a way to further a student’s education. An internship affords the student an opportunity to gain on-the-job skills and knowledge about a particular business, which could lead to a job in the future. Brown, however, wanted to intern where he could study real-world leadership skills in a variety of settings, not just one, so he designed his own internship, “Real World Leaders, Real World Students.”

“It is totally unique to say that what you want to do is to have a semester-long internship and travel to different sites rather than being at one particular site,” said his faculty supervisor Lorraine Garkovich, UK professor in the Department of Community and Leadership Development.

It took Brown, working closely with Garkovich, another semester of planning and organization to get approval from the university for credit hours and to contact the companies and arrange to work at each one for four weeks.

“I had to do a lot of cold calls, and I wrote a lot of letters,” Brown said. “I had a lot of rejection, but I met with people who were out of this world. I learned so much.”

From May through November 2011, Brown worked his way around the country and down his list, starting in Grand Junction, Colo. where he worked for an environmental engineering firm, then continuing on to Wall Street for a look at trading; the University of Maryland, Baltimore, where he shadowed President Jay Perman; back to Clay County for a month working for Long John Silvers; then on to Applied Information/UNITE in Corbin, a nonprofit organization fighting substance abuse in Kentucky. He finished his assignment in Yuma, Ariz., where he worked for an agricultural company. At each place of business, someone had some connection to UK. Perman, for instance, is a former dean and vice president for clinical affairs in the UK College of Medicine.

“From a leadership standpoint, I realized there are some awesome leaders,” Brown said. “A lot of people have the potential. I realize that I have a lot of room to grow and a lot of things I’d like to focus on.”

Brown wrapped up his internship by writing a nearly 100-page report, filled with descriptions of the sites and comparisons of leadership methods to the writings of real-life leaders such as Sun Yat-sen and Coach Mike Krzyzewski, and fictional characters that included Don Quixote, Huckleberry Finn and Odysseus.

“He wrote a series of individualized stories where he took a concept related to leadership, like empowering others, and illustrated that concept using his experiences over the semester,” Garkovich said.

Brown carried a notebook with him on the job and constantly jotted down notes. From those hastily scribbled observations he was able to design a grid that illustrated leadership qualities exhibited by the people he observed. He didn’t just concentrate on the managers, but included workers he’d met who showed leadership skills as well.

His hard work and innovation led to Brown recently being named the 2011 James W. Stuckert Intern of the Year. The award, presented by UK’s James W. Stuckert Career Center, recognizes a student who has shown initiative, diligence and a high quality of work during the internship.

“Not only does the award recognize the academic contributions a student makes, but it recognizes the experience and the importance of their contributions,” said Francene Gilmer, career services and experiential education director in UK’s James W. Stuckert Career Center. “It prepares them to be a stronger candidate for any employer.”

That’s one of the reasons why the College of Agriculture puts such an emphasis on internships and other education-enhancing opportunities, Garkovich said. Plus it often makes them a better student.

“It increases the value they attach to the work they’ve already done,” she said, “and helps them focus in on what else they need to do to prepare themselves to be competitive in the job market.”

Garkovich said more than 80 percent of her students do an internship, with a significant number graduating with at least two or sometimes three internships under their belt.

“We in the College of Agriculture are really proud of Zac’s extraordinary performance during his extended internship,” said Larry Grabau, associate dean for instruction. “His is one of literally hundreds of examples of great academic enrichment experiences-internships, research projects, studies abroad, service learning and apprenticeships-in which our students in the college have been involved over recent years.”

Brown is determined to help other students experience what he has.

“My hope is that we can propel what I did to the next level,” he said. “I’d like to send other students (on a similar internship). I learned more through the development and implementation of the Real World Leaders Program than I have learned through the rest of my academic career.”

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About the Program

The Real World Leaders - Real World Students Program is a leadership program created in partnership with the University of Kentucky that enables students to work at different work sites across America and observe a wide variety of leadership skills, traits and characteristics.

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