As the summer winds down and classes start back up on campus, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) graduate Katie Martin and senior Morgan Jones reflected on the insights and experience they gained as summer interns with UGA Cooperative Extension.
Despite the drastic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Extension procedures and resources as the students anticipated their placements heading into the summer, Martin and Jones were able to work with their supervisors to craft new plans for programming and interactive engagement.
“I was grateful that I got to be a part of this internship opportunity during an uncertain time,” said Martin, who graduated in May with her bachelor's degree in agricultural education. “The biggest challenges were just adapting to the COVID guidelines and the office being understaffed, as employees were working from home.”
Martin found a summer home working alongside supervisor Paul Pugliese in the Bartow County Extension office.
“Katie seems to thoroughly enjoy working with Extension programs and has made several remarks that she would like to make this a future career path,” said Pugliese. “Although she was still wrapping up her senior year, she went out of her way to attend a required farmers market food safety training so that she could be ready to hit the ground running in May for her internship.
Martin had to complete the training for work with the Cartersville Farmers Market to ensure her safety and protect the health of consumers, vendors and market staff. At the market, she helped sanitize high-touch surfaces and areas throughout the operation, while also distributing personal protective equipment to vendors and staff members.
In addition to her numerous roles at the farmers market, Martin helped coordinate virtual summer activities for the local Georgia 4-H program.
“She has been very helpful in our 4-H virtual programming,” said Allison Perkins, a Bartow County 4-H agent. “She has been key in creating our YouTube channel to reach more youth who may not have traditional access to social media.”
Martin’s enthusiasm and willingness to adapt in any situation is not uncharacteristic of the type of person she is year-round, echoed Pugliese and many others. As for her personal resolve and dedication, she looks back to obstacles overcome in her undergraduate education and credits UGA’s faculty and staff.
“The biggest obstacle I had to overcome happened a semester before I was going to graduate,” said Martin. “I ended up in the hospital for a week in September and was taking a class load of 18 hours at the time. Everyone knows if you miss class time, it takes a bit to catch up. That whole semester I was playing catch up, and I am forever grateful for great professors that semester to help me get caught back up.”
Despite these challenges, Martin successfully completed her degree and internships while maintaining her status on the Dean’s List and as a HOPE scholarship recipient.
“Working with the Extension offices during COVID-19 better prepared me for the workforce,” said Martin. “The opportunity helped me learn how to adapt quickly, and the best advice I can give is to take in all the information you can and go above and beyond what is asked of you.”
Jones also received exceptional praise for her work and efforts with Sumter County Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Mitzi Parker.
"Morgan was a joy to work with this summer," said Parker. "I hope she considers working for Extension after she graduates, as we would be lucky to have her."
Jones is a senior animal science major and chairman of UGA’s Young Farmers and Ranchers organization, which brings together young adults who are involved or interested in working in the agriculture industry.
Throughout her summer internship, Jones developed dynamic content and interactive presentations for a variety of Extension programming, ultimately presenting her research at a school nutrition conference in Miller County, focusing on the importance of mental health care and practicing efficient time management.
“My favorite moment of my internship was the opportunity to present at the nutrition conference,” said Jones. “I truly enjoyed interacting with the crowd — through social distancing, of course — and it greatly honed my presentation skills.”
In addition to developing her research and presentation skills, she became a more developed writer, publishing content in the Americus Times-Recorder and in Extension publications focusing on basic nutrition and other topics she studied while collaborating with Parker.
“Mrs. Parker was a great mentor and teacher throughout all aspects of the internship,” said Jones. “Her knowledge of Family and Consumer Sciences challenged me to grow and helped me learn the importance of flexibility and adaptability in all aspects of the workplace.”
Jones encourages future students to challenge themselves and take chances on positions that may be outside of their normal comfort zones.
“My advice to future students is to just apply,” said Jones. “The saying ‘you never know if you don’t try’ might be corny, but these words of wisdom helped me in deciding to apply for this Extension internship. Even though this position is competitive, the process of applying and interviewing truly helps you gain experience for future job applications and interviews.”
For more information about UGA Extension programs or to contact your local office, visit extension.uga.edu.