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Monday, December 20, 2010

From Haiti (and Costa Rica) with love

Several months ago, I shared success stories about our summer interns. Our fourth intern joined the company in September and his last day was December 17. This particular intern was special in many ways.

Rolff Vladimir Mitton, a native of Haiti, is a third year student at EARTH University in Costa Rica, and as part of his mandatory studies, he applied to 15 different organizations (companies, universities, etc.) before deciding to join Frieda’s for his three-month internship. EARTH requires all third year students to go out into the “real world” and start to apply the principles they have been studying.

Rolff’s interests are in the area of plant genetics, but he was fascinated with a specialty produce company and we were thrilled that he decided to join us.

Almost a dozen EARTH students applied for the Frieda’s internship this year, so choosing the ideal candidate was a challenge. We were not able to meet the applicants in person in Costa Rica, so we chose to interview them via SKYPE. Technology can be an amazing enabler!

For those of you who are considering having an intern -- whether a U.S. or international student -- here are some of the little things we did to make Rolff feel welcome:
  • He lived with two of our employees so that he had fellow workers as roommates while he was here. We gave these guys a small stipend to offset part of their rent to cover this.
  • Rolff had his own work station in the office and was set up as a regular employee, so he received regular and group emails, and was invited to attend all department meetings. Often times he participated in the meetings and added great insight!
  • Various managers and company owners took Rolff to lunch to find out more about him and to make him feel welcome.
  • Whenever there was a special industry event (luncheons, field tours, etc.) we took Rolff.
  • Rolff prepared and emailed me a recap of what he did and what he learned each week. During the course of his 13 weeks here, the reports got better and more detailed. (The process of writing the reports and improving them over time was part of his learning.)
  • Rolff was assigned “REAL WORK” during his internship. We continue to hear of many college interns who do “filing” or other busy work. Rolff knew from the beginning that we would work him hard and he welcomed it.
  • In Rolff’s final week, his work culminated with a presentation to the senior management team regarding a new contact management software. (We had put off evaluating the software for more than 5 years. We decided this was the perfect project for Rolff.) His presentation to us was 29 pages long and included a 30-minutes audio presentation. Almost like being a consultant or doing a college final paper.
  • On his final day, we had a small luncheon for him with all his co-workers and we gave him a chance to offer his comments to everyone.

During my first lunch with Rolff, I found out that he is the National Badminton Champion of Costa Rica for 2009 and 2010, for both men’s doubles and mixed doubles!

Before he left, I asked him to share with us his feelings about his internship:

“During these 13 weeks I was able to be part of the Business Development team and work on many projects that helped me learn the true values of professionalism. My final project, the customer relationship management (CRM) assessment, taught me how important it is in the business world to relate efficiently with customers. I was able to complete this project, along with a PowerPoint presentation on my final day, with recommendations for a new CRM for Frieda’s. On a personal side, I got to live with two Frieda’s employees and enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with the Caplan family. I will definitely miss my Frieda's Inc. family.”

I sincerely recommend that every company and organization consider giving back and have an intern. The key to success is two-fold: Make sure the work they do is meaningful to the company. And be sure a senior level person at the company is committed to their success and stays in touch with them.

Paying it forward will definitely pay off!

Karen

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