Internships have been used by Pioneer Utility Resources to help Oregon college students develop skills and sometimes — as with Pioneer writer Victoria Hampton — launch a career.

During the pandemic, telework became possible for many of Pioneer’s 90+ staff across six states. By embracing remote work options, the Oregon-based communications co-op realized a larger pool of interns could join the team, too.

In 2021 Pioneer introduced a paid communications internship program to expand opportunities and champion diversity within the community-owned utility sector.

Editor Mike Teegarden

“This is a wonderful opportunity to give a boost to talented young people of diverse backgrounds, introduce them to an industry they may not have considered, and bring new voices to our communications efforts,” Pioneer Utility Resources Editor Mike Teegarden explains.

The 10-week program offers paid internships to college juniors and seniors. The program has three goals:

  1. Champion diversity (racial, gender, and personal identity) within the community-owned utility industry.
  2. Identify students of diverse backgrounds who would benefit from the opportunity to work for us.
  3. Deliver training and weekly meetings with key managers from each of our divisions.
Social Media Content Creator Sydney Turner

“It allows us to bring a broader, more diverse array of opinions and life experience to our industry, which can only serve to make us better, more compassionate communicators,” says Pioneer Social Media Content Creator Sydney Turner.

Sydney and Mike worked together to create the internship program. Two interns were selected: Alexandra Giang and Leanna Thesken. Each intern’s time is split between magazine publishing and social media marketing.

As with most internships, students collect practical work experience and professional samples for their portfolio. What sets Pioneer’s program apart is a focus on mentorship.

“Alexandra and Leanna have small-group interactions with company leaders and can learn from them how they grew to be where they are,” Mike explains. “Both also are paired up with mentors, who will be confidants to guide them through the learning process and help them adjust to the working world.”

Intern Alexandra Giang

Alexandra Giang

Alexandra Giang, based in Margate, Florida, has worked on social media content for other jobs and served as editor-in-chief for a school magazine. In her junior year at the University of Florida, she wanted a new experience related to her major: agricultural education and communications.

“The internship has been incredible,” Alexandra says.

“I’ve been able to talk to professionals in related fields, learn more about the industry and Pioneer at the same time. Everyone has been extremely supportive. It is really encouraging to see that the workplace can be a fun and creative environment.”

The online internship was unusual, but effective.

“It is definitely more difficult to build a relationship with others, especially in the workplace, when everything is remote,” Alexandra says, “Pioneer pulled it off with flying colors. I was surprised by the positive and encouraging workplace culture.”

“On Alexandra’s first day, she was helping the team navigate the right words on a hip social media post. Her voice had an impact right away,” Mike says.

“One of the many valuable things I’ve gained from the internship is confidence,” Alexandra says. “Everyone has been really encouraging and open to questions. The ability to network and reach out when I need help or have questions is something I will take with me for the rest of my career.”

The cooperative business model matches Alexandra’s career plans.

“My goal is to serve the community,” Alexandra shares. “I want to spend my life improving the quality of life of others and helping them achieve their highest potential.”

Intern Leanna Thesken

Leanna Thesken

Leanna Thesken knows the power of cooperatives. She was a 2017 Washington Youth Tour delegate (read the KIUC Currents feature) and Hawaii’s representative on the Youth Leadership Council (watch a video of her speech). In 2019 she spent the summer working as a communications assistant for the Utility Pioneers at Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative.

“My experiences strengthened my appreciation for everything cooperatives stand for,” Leanna says. “When I heard about Pioneer’s internship program, I was excited to apply. I knew it would be a great fit.”

Leanna, a junior at Point Loma Nazarene University, worked for Pioneer from San Diego, California.

“I was first intimidated by a completely remote internship,” Leanna shares. “I was surprised by the sense of community despite online limitations. Everyone strives to stay connected with one another. I hope my ideas are bringing in a new perspective and a fresh voice.”

“Leanna has already made great contributions while proofing copy for us,” Mike says. “It can be intimidating for a newcomer to make proofing suggestions to a team of veteran editors, but she jumped right in and suggested better wording in several stories. We are very happy to have her working with us.”

During the pandemic, Leanna created a video of the donation of 700 pounds of rice to Kauai’s two food banks in lieu of the traditional member meeting rice giveaway.

“I am continually learning about the power of the cooperative model and its dedication to serving its community,” Leanna says.

“I am gaining the skills and abilities to effectively communicate important stories within rural communities. Engaging with the Pioneer team has helped me grow in writing, interviewing, researching, and more. The art of storytelling is invaluable.”

After graduation, she plans to become a public relations specialist for nonprofit organizations or not-for-profit organizations like cooperatives.

“Ultimately, I hope my career gives me the platform to give voices to the voiceless,” Leanna shares.

Evolving Efforts

Pioneer’s leadership plans to continue the internship opportunity, with a goal of helping it grow into an industry-leadership program.

“My hope is that by introducing their voices to our teams, members of our utility partners will see themselves represented in our work and on our staff, and feel a closer connection, a deeper trust with their utility,” Sydney says.

“We are big winners here,” Mike says. “We get to bring in these incredibly talented young people and learn from them. Hopefully, we are fostering an environment where they feel comfortable sharing their viewpoints with us and helping us grow as a company. As we provide opportunities for talented people of diverse backgrounds, I hope they will find an easier path to jobs with the same opportunities I had in my career.”

Learn more about the program and get ideas for how you can use a similar program to champion diversity in your workforce at our Internship page.