Experiential learning is becoming increasingly popular not only with higher education institutions but, most importantly, with students themselves. Just this summer, Collins College of Business student Brittanie Whitney immersed herself in her fourth internship as a University of Tulsa student.
Whitney’s previous three internships saw the Kansas native interning through TU’s Global Scholars program for nonprofit organizations in Brazil, Chile and Mexico. Between her junior and senior years, however, Whitney – who is majoring in management and minoring in Spanish and international business – decided to “transition into more of a corporate environment” right here in the United States.
A surprising passion for corporate work
As an account management intern in the finance services consultive arm of Gartner, a global leader in the research and advisory sector, Whitney was able to test out new professional waters. “It wasn’t something I thought I would be interested in,” said Whitney. “But I ended up liking this opportunity so much more than I anticipated. I actually found my passion for the corporate setting. In terms of a career path going forward, the experience is helping me clarify what I want to do next.”
During her 10 weeks at Gartner’s Dallas office, Whitney was aligned with a specific account executive. Together, they worked to support chief financial officers to reach their goals in areas such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation, robotic processing and finance team organization.
“A highlight of my experience was having the opportunity to do research share-backs with clients,” Whitney recalled. “Everything Gartner provides to its clients is based on qualitative and quantitative research. I was one of the only interns whose account executives allowed them to engage in client-facing interactions.
“I would take the research, summarize it, digest it, do some research on my own on the client we were working with and their industry. Then, I would join the meeting and share the information back to them and field any questions they had. This gave me exposure to CFOs and allowed me to communicate on a really executive level, as well as go ‘off script’ when necessary. It was challenging but also a learning opportunity.”
Whitney was not the only one at Gartner who benefited from the internship experience. Shelby Whiteside-Brandt, the account executive with whom Whitney worked, heaped praise on her intern’s abilities: “Brittanie helped me in all key programs. Specifically, she directly contributed to a 14% increase in my client engagement numbers. From a personal perspective, Brittanie was able to quickly dive into challenging and ambiguous situations. Her ability to learn quickly was invaluable!”
Language, culture and solving problems
Reflecting on her four internships since that first summer after her freshman year, Whitney points out that the three that took her to foreign countries often entailed logistical and linguistic challenges. On the surface, those experiences seem utterly different from her recent Texas internship.
“But it’s interesting,” she noted, “that even though we were all speaking English at Gartner, there was a new ‘corporate language’ I had to master. I also had to bridge how we do things in academia with how things are done in the real business world. And then there were certain cultural differences that naturally arose because there were 103 interns from all over the country and abroad. How we approached team projects, for instance, was not the same for all of us.”
Whitney continued on to say that “one of the main issues that has arisen in each of my four internships is problem-solving – specifically, proactive problem-solving. Early on in my initial internships, I realized the need to be adaptable and flexible, to be creative when thinking of solutions.”
This lesson occurred right out of the gate during her time interning as a project supervisor with Amigos de las Américas in rural Mexico. There, a lack of infrastructure and spotty cell service taught her the value of foreseeing likely obstacles and trying to take steps before problems snowballed.
“I was able to take that skill into my other internships, including with Gartner,” said Whitney. “By preparing as much as possible, when you’re in the moment you’re able to provide the best response, whether in an internal meeting or with a client. The main questions my internships taught me to ask are: What can go wrong? What can go right? And how can we maximize our preparation?”
Are you a TU student interested in broadening your horizons and deepening your career-ready knowledge and skills through experiential learning? Begin your search with the helpful staff at the Center for Career Development and Professional Engagement.
In the meantime, you might enjoy reading this story about nursing and law students whose experiential learning brought them not only new skills but also gave them the satisfaction of helping sick and vulnerable children.