After I graduated in 2009 from Maryville College with a major in psychology and minors in business in sociology, I worked in human resources for a short period but found that working with students in higher education was my true passion and calling. I started the College Student Personnel program at the University of Tennessee in Fall 2010 and will graduate May 2012.
Part of my education at UT is participation as a graduate assistant in the Disability-Careers Office, as well as with an organization called Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (cosdonline.org). This graduate assistantship (and my full education at UT in general) is funded by Walmart, which also provided me with a corporate internship this summer. My internship experience in Bentonville, Ark., was both the most difficult and most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.
As I left beautiful East Tennessee in mid-May, I was both excited and hesitant about the experience that I was about to embark upon. I had my preconceived notions about both Walmart and Arkansas in general but was relieved to find that these were entirely incorrect. As I got closer and closer to Bentonville, I was overjoyed at the beautiful landscape the Ozark mountains created and found that the town of Bentonville and surrounding cities were both quaint and progressive. The only downfall I experienced about the overall location was the tornado that hit Joplin. Mo., (which was about 30 miles away from where I was staying) the night before I began my internship.
My internship was located in the Global Talent Management team at the Walmart Global People Center. The Walmart headquarters is a large campus composed of many different buildings and functional areas - in total, over 14,000 associates work at the headquarters’ campus alone!
I assumed since I was entering this internship as part of a requisite for my master’s program at UT, I would not have any purpose or be able to use my education and experiences at Walmart; however, I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of being lost in a sea of MBA and undergraduate business students, I found that I not only had the opportunity to utilize my educational and vocational backgrounds, I also got to learn more and expand in my interest areas through my assigned projects.
During my three-month internship I NEVER made copies, grabbed coffee, filed folders or input data (what I expected I was going to do). Instead, I created a fellowship opportunity for a student at another university to participate in through Walmart, including a professional mentor experience.
I got to sit in on professional human resources meetings and learn about how Walmart was preparing to better serve its associates. I was given the opportunity to research issues that women leaders face and most regularly need to work on to become stronger professionals, and I was given the opportunity to create discussion activities, questions and facilitator guides for roundtable discussions. Although this is only a snippet of the many projects and assignments I got to work on, what is most important to me is the fact that each and every one of these projects are currently in use. I was able to work on projects that mattered both to me, as well as to Walmart. I was so pleased that the work I did was recognized and used by the professionals there!
Another impressive feature of the internship was Walmart’s devotion to the professional development of each of the interns there. Of the approximate 12,000 students who apply for Walmart internships, 200 were selected this past summer and got to participate in many great developmental opportunities.
Through the Executive Speaker Series, all the interns had the opportunity to hear from the top leaders within Walmart, such as Mike Duke (president and CEO), Susan Chambers and Bill Simon, and we also got to ask them questions. Just through these speaker sessions, I got to ask Mike Duke a question and was given the opportunity to introduce Susan Chambers. We also participated in the Interns vs. Executives softball game, and although we lost (apparently the interns have NEVER won), it was so amazing to see the VIPs of Walmart in T-shirts and ball caps cheering on their peers.
I also got to participate in many other developmental opportunities such as Shareholder’s Week (which is basically a weeklong celebration of Walmart across the world), professional classes, informational interviews with professionals across Walmart, famous speaker sessions, team development days, a Back-To-School design forum (I got to help choose products that will be released for next year’s Back-To-School sales) and much, much more.
The difficulty I wrote about earlier was not from Walmart or any of the experiences I had while I was there, but from my aversion to the unfamiliar and the discomfort of stepping outside of my comfort zone. Since I grew up in East Tennessee, I had never been 700 miles away from home, let alone lived by myself 700 miles away. It was difficult leaving my husband, family and friends behind all summer, but doing so allowed me to grow and learn so much about myself and what else the world has to offer.
I also stepped out of my comfort zone in a serious way. I had to let go of the thoughts I had about Walmart and admit that I was both wrong and biased in my assumptions. I learned that Walmart is a fantastic place that not only possesses strong values for its “Save Money. Live Better.” mission, but it also has incredibly strong values towards the associates who work there and the communities that Walmart serves.
In addition to stepping outside of my comfort zone, I was able to network with amazing professionals and grow as a professional in every way imaginable. The benefits and rewards from my internship experience are too many to name here, but the most important and rewarding thing that I received from my internship was an offer to return as an employee.
Although Maryville College and East Tennessee will always hold a special place in my heart, I am proud and excited to remove the proverbial training wheels and venture into a new opportunity as a manager at the largest corporation in the world. I would have never had this opportunity to learn, grow and use my education and experiences if I had not participated in this internship and explored the wilderness outside of my comfort zone.