Applied learning – learning through doing – remains among the most compelling and rewarding means of instruction available. The premise and mission of most Universities and Colleges is to bring people together to enrich and expand opportunities for learning. Internships are a time-honored means of applied learning where students can relate what they learn in the classroom to the experiences and lessons of practice. Often, both modes of learning are complementary and profoundly benefit the community broadly: experience for the student, the ability to shape and develop the student for the employer, and increased affinity and association between the college and the community.
Shaun Lawson is in his final semester as a Master of Science in Computer Information Systems and Business Analytics student in the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business. Shaun had recently earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Computer Information Systems prior to his graduate studies. From Amarillo, TX, Shaun has participated in an internship with Pantex/Consolidated Nuclear Security, Inc. since the Summer of 2020. In what is a prized employer with a profoundly important mission for both the Panhandle area and the Nation, Shaun reports that the internship has been a deeply rewarding experience.
Describe your internship experience
My internship has been nothing short of spectacular. Initially I wasn’t sure what to expect out of an internship at Pantex. Not to mention the pandemic was still in full swing. It didn’t take long for the group to make me comfortable and get me set up in a position to get some work done. I have nothing but praise for my boss, Kimbel Leffew, and the entire team I’ve been able to work with. In the beginning it feels like you’re drinking from a fire house as the amount of information you get as a new “employee” is off the charts. Roby, the other intern in Tennessee, and I were very fortunate to be able to get our hands dirty in all kinds of work. We got to work with the best work group I’ve ever been a part of, we picked up a ton of work experience, and made some very important connections. It really has been a wonderful experience. I will advise any data students to investigate being an intern for Pantex if the opportunity presents itself.
What has been your biggest challenge during your internship?
There were a few challenges and overall new experiences that I had to overcome during my year with Pantex. The biggest challenge though was integrating into a new work environment while working from home. Like many others, I was thrown into new territory when I was told I was going to be teleworking during my internship. It took some time to acclimate to online meetings and completely relying on online tools to collaborate. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to get used to my new environment and it’s something that I’ve come to prefer.
What was your biggest take-away from your internship?
My biggest take-away from the internship was the vast set of workplace experiences I was able to get. Like I mentioned in the beginning I wasn’t sure how my year long internship was going to go. I could have been getting coffee for a year, doing simple data entry for a year, or any of the other things that come to mind when thinking of subpar internships. However, I was treated like a full-time employee right from start. I also was given the opportunity to interview for a full-time position within the work group that I interned with. When it’s all over with I’ll have come out on the other side with basically every type of experience a student could hope for when participating in an internship.
How did the internship relate to, or enhance, your studies?
The department or work group that I am interning with are all data analysts. I was able to join in on loads of analysis using a few different tools. Everything from cleaning and joining data to analyzing and creating visualizations. Roby (Tennessee intern) and I were even doing a little developing for the team when we had the time. I really liked how Kimbel laid it out for me. She told me everything that the group was involved in, and I was able to jump in what I found interesting and contribute that way. By the time I hit the summer I was able to easily fill 40-hour work weeks.
Tell us about your WT experience thus far.
My experience at WT is mostly an a-typical one. I first attended WT in 2009 right after I graduated high school and decided to leave after three semesters. I didn’t start taking classes again until the fall semester of 2017 and wasn’t a full-time student until spring of 2018. Now it’s the fall semester of 2021 and I’m finishing my graduate degree. I also grew up in Canyon, so I’ve been able to see WT change and grow and I’ve changed and grown right along side it. My last three years at WT have been exceptional. I was in a better mindset coming in and I’ve had some great classes with great professors. I’ve also met some great peers from all over the world. All of these factors have helped me finish two degrees in a three-year time span with a great internship experience as the icing on the cake.
Tell us about any influential courses or faculty that you’ve taken in the COB.
I’ve had lots of great courses and professors as well as a handful of faculty members really help during my time in the COB. Mrs. Vineyard helped me navigate a lot of the courses and answered all of the questions I had during my undergrad degree. I’m very thankful for all of her help. I emailed her a LOT. Also, my graduate advisor, Lisa Mitchell, has handled things very well. She seems to answer my questions before I even ask them. It was a very smooth transition thanks to her. As far as courses and professors I really enjoyed Dr. Dana and his advanced business programming class. That’s where I started to feel like things were coming together. Dr. Dana also helped me get into the graduate program with his letter of recommendation. I was very fortunate to be able to attend an in-person networking class with Mr. Webb and was part of the Wi-Fi coaches for the inaugural season at the new football stadium. Mr. Webb is one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He was also very generous and helped me get into the grad program with his letter of recommendation. I’ve had Dr. Lazrig in many different classes and have learned a lot about developing and visualizing data. He was a great professor. One not so related course that I enjoyed was Professor Klaehn’s literature course. I had to take Professor Klaehn’s course to fill a small gap in my course work and it was very enjoyable. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much in a class as I did in his class. Dr. Chen has some of the hardest courses I’ve taken at WT, but I always learn so much. Without his courses I wouldn’t be much of the analyst that I am. In the end the professor that I’ve undoubtedly spent the most time with is Dr. Babb. I actually met Dr. Babb back in 2009 when I first attended WT and I’ve also been in a class with Dr. Babb every semester since my returning. He’s also the only reason I was able to participate in this internship. Dr. Babb has helped me realize my place in this type of work and helped me grow immensely as a developer. I’m very grateful to him.
What is your plan after graduation?
I have yet to start the job hunt in earnest yet, but I plan to really start putting my best foot forward since my final semester is well underway. I was very fortunate to have an interview at Pantex for the position I interned in so I might be able to continue working for them. Right now that’s what I’m hoping for. Pantex is a very competitive workplace though so if it doesn’t work out I’ll use my internship experiences and start my career somewhere else. I have a few other leads for data analyst jobs in Houston and Dallas and developer position in Denver. I really just want to get out there and continue to grow and develop my skills.