Sierra Richey grew up in a small Nebraska town not unlike others surrounded by farmland.
She has detasseled plenty of cornfields but admits her background and knowledge of agriculture was minimal — until this summer.
The international business and Spanish major was seeking a summer internship that would combine her academic majors. Her advisor, Jo Ann Fuess, Professor of Spanish and German, suggested she apply for an internship through the Nebraska Corn Board.
The Nebraska Wesleyan University junior soon learned she was one of seven undergraduates selected for an internship and the only student selected for one in Panama City with the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), a nonprofit that develops and expands markets for U.S. grains.
“It was truly a perfect fit for me to get a chance to see what an international organization looks like and continue to practice my Spanish,” said the Adams Central High School graduate from Juniata, Neb. “I was open to learning more about agriculture and did not want to let my lack of knowledge about it keep me from applying for this amazing opportunity.”
She assisted marketing consultants who travel every week to meet potential buyers, attended conferences and workshops, and planned programs. She organized flights, hotels, transportation, and more. Richey also attended several programs to observe and learn.
“The first few meetings were extremely challenging as they were completely in Spanish, but I found myself understanding more with each meeting we had,” said Richey. “Overall attending these programs was a really great way to not only see how the work I was doing in the office was carried out into the actual programs, but also to get a better idea of what the U.S. Grains Council does and what an international workplace looks like.”
Richey also participated in the Request for Proposal (RFP) process of an ethanol feasibility project on the Panama Canal. She created a business execution agreement between the USGC and the Panama Canal Authority. She chose and contacted potential bidders and finalized several agreements between the USGC and the company they selected.
“It was great to see how many of the classes I have taken were able to tie into this project,” she said. “I kept remembering my business communications class as I was emailing different companies. I also kept remembering things that I learned in my business law class while I was working on the final agreements and contracts.”
The international internship experience also gave Richey the opportunity to become more independent and get out of her comfort zone. She befriended several expats interning at other organizations in Panama.
“This experience taught me so much both professionally and personally. I learned about working and living in a global workplace. I was given a lot of responsibility from the start,” she said.
Now Richey is off to Ecuador where she will spend her fall semester and then onto Spain for the spring semester. As a Spanish major, she knows the value cultural immersion has for language skills. Richey said she has always wanted to visit Spain, but she wanted to experience more of the Latin American culture. The dual placement program allows her to do both.
“I know that this will be a challenge, but I am excited to push myself and get the most out of all three of these very different experiences,” said Richey.
Richey is confident her experiences will set her up for a career with an organization with an international focus that allows her to use her Spanish skills.
“One of the things I really enjoyed about interning with the USGC was their overall goal to help people,” she said. “I am not sure if I will pursue a career in the agricultural sector, but I see myself working for an organization with similar objectives.”
Story by Kelsea Porter (‘19)