Even young college students need opportunities to get involved.
When Emma Severns applied for the University of Minnesota Extension summer internship with county-based educators in agriculture, everyone thought it would be like any other summer. When COVID-19 changed how the internship worked, interns and educators adapted to deliver education during a pandemic together.
Interns work closely with Extension educators and learn how Extension translates science-based knowledge for use across Minnesota. Interns work on program development, education and communication — all while following COVID-19 safety guidelines. They also learn about career possibilities. There were five county-based ag summer interns in 2020, as well as other interns and students in other areas of Extension.
Severns worked with Troy Salzer, Extension ag production systems educator. They adapted their outreach to virtual platforms like Zoom, social media and educational videos to connect with people they never would have reached before.
Severns comes from Good Thunder, a rural community in southern Minnesota and was eager to travel north. “I wanted to see different aspects of agriculture that I don’t see in southern Minnesota,” she says. “Northern Minnesota has more forage farming and shorter growing seasons.”
Part of a whole University experience
While COVID-19 delayed the start of the internship, Severns brought enthusiasm that Salzer calls “a level of 120 percent.”
“Emma asked, ‘How do we get more things planned and carried out than are expected?’” says Salzer. “She pushed me outside of my comfort zone, especially with COVID and our need to approach traditional education processes in a much different manner. The video skills she brought have been extremely valuable.”
“I think it will have a positive effect on how we communicate in the future,” says Severns, adding that we shouldn’t forget about the importance of in-person communication and finding more safe ways to interact.
Severns says she learned from real-life experiences with farmers and their struggles. This learning helps the University come up with ways to assist them. “I got to apply some of the skills I’m learning in school,” she says.
Before college, Severns was involved in 4-H for 13 years and was a member of FFA. “I’m an animal science girl,” she says, but by working with Salzer she learned more about plants and horticulture. “Now, I can name weeds, trees and stages of growth. I learned so much during this internship.”
Meaningful work in a virtual era
Armed with her agricultural background and communication skills, Severns wrote informational articles for Extension and helped organize an annual field day. The event was expanded to include five locations and Facebook Live.
Severns also worked on the University of Minnesota Farm Families of the Year awards, normally an in-person ceremony where a Minnesota family from each county is recognized for their contributions to agriculture and their communities. “We really wanted to honor the local farm family, so we put together a nice video showing how they contribute,” says Severns. “It was one project I’m super proud of.”
Severns hopes to recruit future interns from within the University, especially those interested in agriculture, food and natural resource sciences. “I highly encourage anyone interested in ag to apply to the ag internship next year,” she says. “You will improve your skills and work with great people.” Watch Extension’s social media outlets for summer internship opportunities, which are typically posted in the winter.
After six months of COVID-19 shutdown and spending her summer as a University of Minnesota Extension intern in St. Louis County, Severns was excited to start her final semester.
“I’m kind of excited to be in-person for at least a couple of classes,” says Severns, who is expected to graduate in December. Her classroom studies, like her Extension internship, are preparing her for post-graduation life.