Internship Programs Enhance Sorghum Industry, Build Professionals

Kayla Wilkins & Megan Skiles

Kayla Wilkins & Megan Skiles

Internships can be valuable experiences for young professionals eager to enter the workforce. But they can also play a crucial role in maximizing the efficiency of an organization.

Both the Sorghum Checkoff and National Sorghum Producers have hosted a number of interns over the years with positions relating to communications, economics, agronomy and more. The knowledge and experiences gained through these internships help shape these individuals into leaders and professionals in their respective fields, while allowing them the opportunity to help enhance the sorghum industry at the same time.

Two communications interns recently completed their internships with Team Sorghum, both of whom had been with the organizations for more than a year.

Kayla Wilkins, a senior agricultural communications major at Texas Tech University, joined the team as communications intern for the Sorghum Checkoff in August 2014. During that time, she completed a variety of projects, including multiple blog posts and articles as well as video, photography and graphic design pieces.

“I think my biggest accomplishment since I have been here has just been growing overall as a communications person,” said Wilkins, a native of Poteet, Texas. “I felt like I got a lot of experience writing, a lot of experience designing, a lot of experience with social media campaigns and just how to be a professional in general.”

In January 2015, National Sorghum Producers was joined by communications intern Megan Skiles, now a Texas Tech agricultural communications graduate from Bowie, Arizona. During her time with NSP, Skiles assisted with the publication of the quarterly Sorghum Grower magazine, assisted in the compilation and distribution of the weekly Sorghum Notes newsletter and completed a variety of projects involving video production, social media and graphic design.

“The team really brought us in, and I felt like there was a lot expected of us,” Skiles said. “We were allowed to contribute a lot and were seen as more part of the team as opposed to an intern that was just picking up the slack. I felt like there was a lot of opportunity for us to grow.”

Through the opportunities these interns were given, both organizations were able to increase and enhance communications and relationships with sorghum farmers across the country. Both Wilkins and Skiles went above and beyond to develop content, speak with farmers and assist staff members on a day to day basis.

One project, a biweekly crop update, required Wlikins to compile a report every other week from planting through harvest reflecting the sorghum crop progress in seven sorghum-producing regions. She spoke with a farmer representative from each region for an update on how the crop was progressing in their respective areas. Information in these reports proved to be beneficial to sorghum growers across the country, extension specialists and different media outlets, and was shared on the Sorghum Checkoff website as well as on multiple social media outlets.

One of Skiles’s more regular projects, Sorghum Notes provides legislative updates, crop updates and general industry information to all NSP members each week. This project required Skiles to compile and produce content that she then put together in a newsletter format for digital distribution. She then put together a separate print document to be mailed to members.

“When I started, I just expected to come in and do some of the odds and ends and some of the smaller tasks and not necessarily have the responsibilities that we did,” Skiles said. “I enjoyed it more the more we got to do. I guess I was thinking of an internship as something that I had to do as opposed to something I would enjoy and was really going to benefit me.”

Both Wilkins and Skiles had the opportunity to attend Commodity Classic to represent the sorghum industry, and both credit it to being their favorite internship experience.

“This is what these internships are about,” said Jennifer Blackburn, NSP external affairs director. “Exposing these students to the realities they will experience and navigate in their careers is essential to future success, and I am really proud of the growth exhibited by these two young ladies. They saw the whole picture and were able to bring it full circle at the end of their time here.”

In addition to the overall increase in communications for the industry, the goal of these internships is to provide students with the opportunity to learn practical skills outside of what is taught in school while also supplying networking opportunities.

“I have learned more of why we do certain things as opposed to the classroom where we just learn how,” Wilkins said. “Here I have learned why it is important and why it is necessary. I have also made a lot of connections throughout this internship that will help in my future career.”

Upon completion of her junior year at Texas Tech this spring, Wilkins took a summer position as communication intern at Hereford Publications, Inc. After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in May 2017, she plans to go to graduate school to work toward a master’s degree in agricultural communications. After graduating from Texas Tech in May, Skiles accepted an offer to join Kith Consulting as an account manager in Austin, Texas. The Sorghum Checkoff and National Sorghum Producers will be welcoming three new interns in June.

“With our headquarters in Lubbock, Texas, a college town, Team Sorghum has a really unique opportunity to pull in some really quality students and expose them to the sorghum industry,” Blackburn said. “Kayla and Megan, and many of our past interns, have been exceptional members of our team, and we wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors.”