After completing fall semester of my junior year, I decided to change things up a bit. I was lucky enough to get a job offer, and instead of registering for classes to complete another semester in Ann Arbor, I decided to take the semester off to gain some work experience.

I was offered an internship position in Walt Disney World’s Industrial Engineering department in Orlando, Fla. Disney, I learned, has its own set of terms it uses to describe the layout of the park. They use “on stage” and “off stage” to classify different areas on Disney property. “On stage” was anywhere an employee could be seen by guests, and “back stage” included areas where guests are not allowed. As an Industrial Engineering intern, I was usually “backstage,” while working in a building at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It was right behind the Rockin’ Rollercoaster attraction. I worked on projects at all four parks as well as some of the Disney resorts. During lunch breaks, the other interns and I would usually go on a ride or two before getting back to work.

I was placed in the Project Development group within Industrial Engineering. The first project I was assigned had to do with the closing of Toontown. The area in the Magic Kingdom was going to be shut down to make room for the expansion of Fantasyland. My role with the project was to identify what affect the closing of Toontown would have on the rest of the park. By looking at pages of Excel spreadsheets and performing numerous calculations, I was able to determine key numbers to get an idea of how the closure would affect other areas in the park.

The largest project I worked on involved the new interactive queue elements Disney has started implementing — changing the way parkgoers wait in line. The goal of the interactive elements is to entertain guests while they wait in line for an attraction. I developed a set of standardized metrics that would be used in the future for any calculations for a queue with interactive elements.

Living in Orlando was an amazing benefit. Leaving Michigan from the months of January to May was perfect — I got to skip a horrible winter and move to a place with beautiful weather every day. Also, as a Disney employee, I had free admission to the parks and discounts on Disney merchandise. I spent the rest of my free time at my apartment’s pool, Universal Studios, downtown Orlando and, my favorite, Cocoa Beach.

After completing my internship at Disney I drove from Orlando directly to Troy, Mich., and I had only a few days to spare before I transitioned right into my second internship with General Motors.

Though General Motors may not sound quite as exciting as Disney World, GM is where I developed more as a professional. GM provided free student housing for the interns, who quickly became my close friends.

I worked as a global purchasing and supply chain intern in the Outbound Vehicle Logistics group. My responsibility was to communicate with different carriers, present sourcing recommendations and reward business to the best fitting carrier for various vehicle distribution centers across the United States. I was also in GM’s Ambassador Program, which allowed me to test vehicles. I had a yellow Camaro SS (Bumblebee from “Transformers”) in June, and orange Corvette Grand Sport in August. Between my friends and I drove at least one fun car each week, and we took full advantage of the opportunity.

When I first began my search for an internship, and when I eventually got a job offer in my junior year, I honestly had no idea what to expect and didn’t know where I would end up or what the internship was good for in the long run. However, looking back on this past year and the experience I obtained through my internships, I realize how much I learned about myself in the process.

Not only did I get a better understanding of myself through these internships, I found out what I wanted out of a career and formed some great friendships with the other interns.

I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to experience and learn new things. I want to continue to learn and move around as much as possible. Interning in the Midwest and then driving to the South allowed me to do exactly that. From developing strategies, to making a parkgoers’ experience better, to test driving brand new sport cars, I learned what I needed to focus on while building my career.

Going into my full-time job search, the past year has steered the type of positions I have looked for. My main focus has been looking for positions in consulting firms because I feel it’s similar to the internship experience: traveling to different locations, learning about different companies and working with different people as the projects evolve and grow.

Typically, I have always viewed the word “internship” as a summer job that would look good on a résumé, but I found out that the relationships, experiences and self-development that come out of an internship are real rewards that I will live with forever. An internship can be more than just a couple of bullet points on a résumé — it’s a guiding experience that gave me confidence I can survive in the rat race.

— Courtney Murphy is an Engineering Senior

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