(Photo courtesy of Nate Tlaseca)
I wanted more than anything to be the general manager of an NBA team growing up. So as soon I started college, I sent messages to more than 40 employees of the 89ers and 76ers asking about internships and opportunities to join their organization.
After weeks of waiting, I heard nothing back and was crushed. I did not know why no one responded — until I asked myself why they’d want someone whose only “real world” experience was being a team member at Taco Bell and CVS.
So, I started chasing “real world” experience and began applying to join companies as an intern. I applied everywhere hoping someone would give me a chance. But none of the companies I applied to were interested. Even though I was starting to quickly pick up accomplishments at the University of Delaware, I thought maybe I just wasn’t talented enough.
Until I applied to be an intern at a startup.
Two weeks later I was one of the youngest interns ever in the Philly Startup Leaders accelerator program as a business development intern at a company called College Money Search. Having the chance to do impactful work as a first-semester freshman gave me the freedom to build new skills and try new ideas. While also giving me confidence in my ability to one day aspire to be an entrepreneur myself.
Interning as a freshman was truly educational
I believe that other students should be given a chance to have an experience like this too. We have a great opportunity to be one of the first institutions to realize the power of “starting early” and capitalize on it. The University of Delaware should start to create a program that works with underclassmen to place them in opportunities such as internships at startups. A program like this would accelerate both the growth of local companies and local students.
College is where our nation’s young professionals go to learn, and gain skills needed to succeed in the professional world. Colleges provide students with the theoretical knowledge and the hard skills required to make a living in our economy. But to truly succeed, students need to apply what they are learning and build the soft skills needed to truly thrive.
Innovation and creativity do not come from trying experimental drugs or thinking hard in the shower.
Now, I am not saying that this is a revolutionary idea. Many colleges have created multiple internships programs, student consulting groups and more to give their students a head start. But with so many of these programs fail to do is give these opportunities to universities’ most important resource, underclassmen.
Many companies create internship programs to create a talent pipeline, a way to train potential workers and hire the best in each cohort. So, they only open these programs to upperclassmen, because they can be hired faster and are “better prepared” for the work. Furthermore, many companies are scared that talented younger students will intern with them, learn from their training, “waste” their resources and then move onto different opportunities or their competition. Due to this, students wait until their junior year to really look for internships, and colleges have created programs to reflect this reality.
But due to the rise of startup culture, we can change this model! We can start placing our freshman and sophomores in startup companies without the worries that come with bigger, more-established companies. Imagine how much value the University of Delaware would have if even a tenth of our business underclassmen had ACTUAL “real world” experience. We would have students who were practicing their education and the best part would be the innovation created because the crazy thing is innovation comes from experience.
Why starting early matters
Innovation and creativity do not come from trying experimental drugs or thinking hard in the shower. They come from doing hard work, getting the basics down, learning from the mistakes your forefathers made and putting your own twist on it.
LeBron James has changed the game of basketball forever! He can dunk, pass and defend in ways no one player ever has. But when was the last time you saw him miss an open layup? The answer is “never” because he practices every day.
The best musical artists practice and write every day, the best networkers network constantly, the best speakers are always speaking. You do not just wake up a success. Starting early would allow students the chance to build the skills needed to start innovating, and help create an innovation hub in Delaware.
This is why I think underclassmen are our biggest resource.
UD can be a national leader
To create innovation and change at organizations as big as UD, time is needed. Many juniors and seniors have created great things while attending our great University but with only two years at most to work on it, how far can they truly go? Imagine if they started feeling confident enough to innovate earlier? Our school, our state, and even our country would be better due to the experience and education we gave our talented students.
Many factors led to Silicon Valley becoming the leader of entrepreneurship culture, but the leading factor is that you can’t walk five feet without meeting someone who worked at a startup. Whether you’re a 55-year-old coder or a 19-year-old SEO whiz, no one cares if you can work and are talented.
Delaware is a small state, the University of Delaware has the power to connect its students to anyone within a 150-mile radius. We have access to hundreds of startups from D.C. to New York willing to work with our students. Why not take advantage of this opportunity? Delaware loves being “First” so why not be the trendsetters?
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