Cooperative interns: Building a career

Everyone has to start somewhere, career-wise. Many times, that means internships for those who are trying to sort out possible paths. For decades, explorers who have come into an internship at an electric cooperative have found a “home away from home” — a family feeling with smaller staffs that allow for both learning opportunities and advancement. Electric co-ops are companies that care about their employees; they offer good pay, stellar benefits, and a friendly environment.

Below are stories from former cooperative interns, in their own words, and how their internships took them to full-time co-op jobs.

Samantha Kuhn – Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, Columbus


I knew I wanted to be a part of a publication that emphasized down-home topics and “real” people, like my own neighbors and friends, while still operating under the cooperative spirit I had grown up in. With my journalism background, love for editing and writing, and a fondness for the co-op model, I had an inkling that being a communications intern for Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives would be a natural fit. I dove into each day’s nitty-gritty operations and asked a thousand questions, and my internship turned out to be the best hands-on learning experience I could have hoped for — not to mention, it paid surprisingly well! My supervisor matched my interests with relevant tasks, then provided a level of honest, real-world feedback that I would have never received in the classroom. The experience allowed me to not just dip my toes into the waters of the co-op world, but to wade in as deeply as I wanted. I was able to cut the rope that bound me to my comfort zone, and in stepping out, I realized just how much more there could be to professional life than merely “work.” So, naturally, I came back to Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives when a position opened.

Ryan Strom – Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, Columbus


After high school, I decided to study electrical engineering, which had always been an interest of mine, at Ohio University. Midway through my sophomore year, I started looking for positions through the university’s Engineering “Co-Op” Program — not electric cooperatives (as I learned about later), but instead a cooperative educational program. The program was set up so engineering students could gain on-the-job experience by working full time for half of the school year and going to school full time for the remainder. I chose a position with Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives because I was excited to learn about the electric utility industry, and I was interested in the co-op business model. While interning there, I developed systems to support the statewide electric-load-forecasting program, transmission interconnections, and rate analyses. The position offered exposure into regulation, distribution, transmission, and generation — all of which taught me a lot about the industry. My experience was so phenomenal that when I finished college, I accepted a full-time position with Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives as a power delivery engineer. Now I mentor all of the incoming “co-op” students from schools across Ohio.

Dan Bunyard – Consolidated Cooperative, Mt. Gilead/Delaware


Growing up near the village of Galena, just north of Columbus, I was home-schooled from kindergarten through high school. I’ve had a knack for computers since I was young, and I decided to pursue a degree in computer engineering at Ohio Northern University. At the same time, I sought an engineering internship with a local business and got an offer from Consolidated. I worked three months that summer, sorting through old work orders and making small map corrections. In the fall, I started college and discovered very quickly that I didn’t want to be an engineer. After leaving college the following year, I returned to Consolidated, again as an engineering intern, but struggled to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I shifted from engineering to IT intern for about a year before becoming a part-time technician, and that’s when I discovered that IT was my calling. I later became full-time staff and, in 2015, was promoted to systems administrator, overseeing all servers and systems. It’s an understatement to say that all the staff here at Consolidated, including some who are no longer here, are the reason I am where I am today.

Eli Callis – Consolidated Cooperative, Mt. Gilead/Delaware


My story begins at a computer networking course during my senior year of high school. About two months before graduation, my professor told the class that Consolidated had internships available. I interviewed for an IT position and am forever that happy I did, because it concluded with a “When can you start?” I knew little about electric cooperatives, but I quickly learned that Consolidated was a great place to be. I started working two hours per day until graduation and amped that up to three full-time days per week when I started college. The flexible work schedule allowed me to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in network communications management, and I was offered a full-time IT position shortly after. In 2012, Consolidated began to ramp up its plan to build a fiber communications network, and I became network supervisor to oversee and facilitate the needs of the new services. Fast-forward to the present, and our commercial fiber network is well established. I’ve had the opportunity to train and mentor other interns, and now, in preparing for even more growth, I have been asked to move into the chief technology officer role. I have never been more honored.

Shiloh Neice – Carroll Electric Cooperative, Carrollton


Growing up 15 minutes from Carroll Electric, and having lived on co-op lines for 27 years, I had some exposure to the co-op world. I decided to apply for the summer helper position because it was convenient — close to home and extra cash for college. I was hired and put right to work doing anything and everything that was asked. I helped the mechanic perform service and maintenance on the bucket, digger, and pickup trucks. I also helped in the warehouse by unloading trucks, counting inventory, and doing basic cleaning.
I moved from summer helper to working on the Carroll line crew part time while finishing up my degree. In 2013, I was hired full time on the line crew and was given the opportunity to pursue an apprenticeship through the Central Ohio Lineworker Training (COLT) program. Fast-forward three years, and I was promoted to line supervisor. If I had not applied for and received the summer helper position, I would have graduated college as a construction manager. Instead, I pursued an electrical career and have loved it since.

John Porter – Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative, Millersburg


My internship with Holmes-Wayne began in fall 1988, while I was attending Ohio Northern University pursuing electrical engineering. I was interested in an internship program to help with financial demands and to gain experience, and I began looking into the electric utility industry at the prompting of a professor and family who were co-op members. I was offered an internship at Holmes-Wayne, and I worked on several projects while in college — from implementing an outage management system to converting a Mylar-based mapping system to an electronic AutoCAD system. My internship gave me a lot of experience, and when I graduated, I had an edge on my peers. Holmes-Wayne offered me a full-time job, and I accepted the position, knowing it came with close friends and family, competitive benefits, and a range of work challenges in the years to come. Looking back from the time I started at Holmes-Wayne as the company’s first in-house engineer to today, as vice president of operations and engineering, I have seen many changes throughout the years. The internship was a great place for me to test out not only a career in the electric utility industry, but a career with my potential future employer.

Matt Donaldson – Midwest Electric, St. Marys


When I was in college, I was interested in an internship, but apprehensive about it. I saw an ad from Midwest for a full-time position, which I knew I couldn’t do because of school, but my dad encouraged me to apply anyway. I didn’t get the job, but it worked out because I made great connections, which became useful when I had on-the-job requirements for one of my courses. After striking out at many places and feeling hopeless, I contacted Midwest. They offered me a position working two days per week while taking classes the other three days. It was an incredible experience in the geographic information system (GIS) field, taking paper maps and updating computer models. I worked with maps until I graduated, and Midwest offered me a full-time position as GIS technician a week later. Once I was full time, I took all of the paper maps and converted them to electronic. It’s important to take chances and to not get down on yourself if you fail. If it wasn’t for my father encouraging me to put myself out there, and having my back when I did again, I would not have the job that I have today.