What a difference an internship can make! Tarleton students Chris Windham and Daniel Garcia can tell you about that firsthand.

Wendell Hollingsworth, Vice President of Operations for Fibergrate, manager of the Stephenville plant, and a member of the Business and International Education Initiative Advisory Committee offered to hire a Tarleton intern for the newly purchased Fibergrate facility in Queretaro, Mexico. The job required a student proficient in Spanish with an interest in production management. After announcing the opportunity to my students and those of several colleagues, five students applied, and not one, but two were selected.

The internship puts the student in the “real world” of a potential occupation, and the employer gets to see how the student performs in an on-the-job environment. Some departments at Tarleton require an internship as part of the degree plan, while in others areas it is optional. Internships may be paid or unpaid opportunities, and range from a few weeks or months, to a full semester in length, but give both the student and employer time to evaluate each other. Sometimes the internship matures into a job offer and an actual career for the student, or just as importantly, the student realizes that particular job is not what they really want for the long term.

Many Tarleton students gain experience, as well as earn academic credit, through internships in fields related to their courses of study, but very few of those are outside the U.S. After a two week training period at the Stephenville Fibergrate plant to prepare for their roles as quality inspectors, Chris and Daniel made the trip to Queretaro. They started by finding economical living quarters, learning efficient use of the bus, taxi, and walking routes to their jobs, and getting advice on the safest parts of the city for evenings out.

Chris and Daniel were hired to assist in bringing the new plant’s production processes up to the quality expected in the U.S., with the additional responsibility of providing English classes for some of the managers. The guys focused on resolving general issues and well as addressing specific problems. When the patch mix was not catalyzing quickly enough, Chris requested that instructions be posted and lessons be given on the preparation. Daniel caught inconsistencies in depth of gratings, and developed a “go-no-go” diagram. From clarification of specifications, requiring label alignment and consistent patching voids, according to Daniel, “They seemed to be surprised at the strictness of the specifications, but have since made every effort to follow them.”

Two English classes were organized, Daniel taught the beginners in the morning and Chris the advanced class in the afternoon. But when some of the workers on the floor expressed an interest in learning English, Daniel took on a second beginners class in the afternoons after first shift. Chris’s advanced students spoke only English in class and he often spoke to them in English during the day.

Both Chris and Daniel expressed gratitude to Fibergrate for the exceptional experience gained in their internships. Chris, who graduated in May with a degree in Business and minors in Spanish and International Studies, is now working in the marketing field Austin. Daniel, an Agriculture Services and Development major with a Business minor, graduated in August and is now a Quality Assurance Supervisor with Fibergrate in Queretaro, Mexico, a career and location he had never considered before the internship.

Dr. Janis Petronis is a professor in the College of Business Administration at Tarleton State University.