Every story needs a strong start.

Pioneer’s summer internship program provides a digital and print storytelling springboard for college students. Two new storytellers join our ranks in June: Franklin Thurlow and Erika Becerra Gutierrez. 

Franklin will spend the summer writing stories for our magazines, including Ruralite and Currents. Erika will focus on digital storytelling as a member of our Pioneer Social team.

The first assignment for both interns was to share their stories with you, our members.

Meet Our Storytelling Students

Franklin Thurlow

Franklin Thurlow

He loved reading stories. Now he wants to help you tell your story, too.

Growing up, Franklin Thurlow loved a good story. The Colorado Springs, Colorado, native fondly recalls going to book fairs to browse books, starting from his earliest years in elementary school. Even through several long-distance moves Franklin has made from his journey as a child to now, his love for reading followed him.

Despite showing an early passion for reading, however, when Franklin first got to Northwestern College in Iowa, where he attended school for three years, he did not see a future in writing his own stories.

“I had always been pretty good at English and writing,” Franklin says. “But I had always thought you could only be an English professor or an English teacher if you’re going to do something with writing.”

It was not until his sophomore year of college that he changed paths from finance and economics after his adviser suggested he give public relations a shot.

Franklin soon began to flourish in his public relations courses. After moving to Texas and transferring to East Texas Baptist University for his senior year, Franklin gained hands-on experience in the field through an internship with a local nonprofit and as a student worker for the school’s communication department. In these roles, Franklin expanded his skill set in photography, social media, graphic design — and inevitably — writing. Despite this wide skill set, Franklin’s favorite professional experiences have always involved storytelling.

After shifting toward a career in public relations, Franklin began experiencing a lot more joy in the work he was doing both inside and outside his classes.

“It felt a lot more natural,” Franklin says. “It felt like just what I was supposed to be doing.”

Outside of work and classes, Franklin found himself exploring his career interests through East Texas Baptist University’s Communication Society, an extracurricular group dedicated to helping students develop their skills related to the field of communication. Volunteer opportunities through this group are what connected Franklin to Pioneer.

Having gotten a head start in writing for Pioneer, Franklin explained that the most exciting part about his work is the diversity of topics he has the opportunity to explore.

“I wouldn’t have thought that a utility magazine, when I first started doing some of the articles for them, would have such different things to write about,” Franklin says. “There’s a lot of different people that I definitely wouldn’t normally meet, or go out of my way to meet, or experiences that you get to experience.”

After going to college in a rural town in Iowa for three years, Franklin experienced many of the complexities of rural living first-hand. As a result, Pioneer’s commitment to supporting rural communities makes Franklin’s work at Pioneer more meaningful to him.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in public relations with a minor in marketing, Franklin looks forward to further developing his storytelling skills through Pioneer’s internship program, as well as having more samples of his own work to share with others.

In the distant future, Franklin sees himself using his skills to freelance in writing and public relations. For now, the 2022 graduate looks forward to interning at Pioneer, a start to his future in storytelling.

Erika Becerra Gutierrez

Erika Becerra Gutierrez

This summer, Pioneer Utility Resources brought in two interns who will work with their respective teams to learn and help create content. Erika Becerra Gutierrez will help assist the social media team.

A Georgia native, Erika attended Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia. Erika is a first-generation college student, which makes her family extremely proud.

“My parents always emphasized the importance of college education to me and my siblings,” Erika says.

Erika’s source of pride and accomplishment from her college experience comes from her work helping other first-generation students in Berry’s First Gen Club.

“It is an exclusive privilege to go to college, but I don’t necessarily think it needs to be,” Erika says. “For me, getting to help provide resources to other first-gen students who may not normally reach out, and hearing them say how our meetings were helpful, is my biggest accomplishment.”

While at Berry College, Erika was also an active member of the speech and debate team, where she eventually rose to the rank of president. Erika believes her experiences on the team and the concepts learned through speech carried over well to her social media work.

“Speech taught me a lot about communicating clearly and concisely, and even presentation, which transfers over to social media,” she says.

It is no coincidence, then, that her favorite speeches to give were persuasive.

“Speech helped me figure out how to best communicate and focus on a message, specifically how it will persuade or land with an audience,” she says.

Erika has plenty of experience reaching and persuading audiences, with her most recent work coming in the form of an internship with Fork U Concepts, where she managed content for 19 different social media accounts. This, paired with her experience as a leader of an extremely successful debate team, has Erika excited for this summer internship with Pioneer.

“I’ve met the team, and they’re awesome,” Erika says. “I’m looking forward to working with them and learning.”

Erika’s interest in the Pioneer internship goes beyond simply looking for experience. Many of Erika’s friends and peers at Berry College came from small, rural communities. In 2020, when schools had to move online due to COVID-19, this posed a problem for many of them.

“A lot of my friends couldn’t go to their classes since they had no internet access,” Erika says. “All these problems kept coming up for them, especially with communication, and that’s what got me interested in this internship; helping people know about access to different utilities.”

Internship work aside, Erika looks forward to getting out and playing pickleball, and watching dog videos on the social media platforms this summer.


About Pioneer’s Internships

In 2021 Pioneer introduced a paid communications internship program to expand opportunities and champion diversity within the community-owned utility sector. The first set of interns included a Washington Youth Tour alumna, Leanna Thesken, who now works as a project manager on our Powerful Web team.

“It is gratifying to see Leanna’s progress from Youth Tour participant to working with her local cooperative, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, working as an intern for Pioneer and now taking on a full-time job in the industry,” Pioneer’s Electric Magazines Editorial Director Mike Teegarden says.

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.

Mike and Social Media Content & Accounts Manager Sydney Turner worked together to create the internship program. 

“We started this program from scratch in 2021,” Sydney says. “For year two, we took the learns we gained from that experience and built what we feel is a richer, more balanced program, which we hope will lead to even more success for Erika and Franklin.”

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. Applications open in January each year at pioneer.coop/internship.