More than mere summer jobs, they offer students real-world experience and opportunity to explore career paths
Aera Energy intern Karen Sandoval isn’t spending her summer doing busy work.
Instead, the college junior is hard at work on a project that would be expected of a full-time Aera employee.
Sandoval, an environmental resource management major at California State University-Bakersfield, is comparing environmental, health and safety factors among similar work groups at Aera’s five locations.
Her work will make vast amounts of data more user-friendly so Aera employees can more easily follow critical safety protocols.
This daughter of Salvadoran immigrants is one of 22 college students interning with Aera this summer. While COVID-19 restrictions mean Aera’s 2020 interns are tackling their projects from their homes in several states, this year’s virtual internships are still providing the business experience and real-life skills so valuable to career paths.
“I’ve always wanted to help others and make a difference in the practice of safety,” Sandoval said. “This internship is an opportunity to succeed in the workforce as well as life.”
This year’s Aera interns arose out of 1,000 applicants, all pursuing a variety of majors at colleges and universities across the nation. Some come from California schools with strong STEM programs, such as the University of California-Los Angeles, University of Southern California and CSU-Bakersfield. Others attend Montana Tech and Colorado School of Mines, where Aera has long-standing internship relationships.
Along with high GPAs, successful interns bring something else to Aera’s table.
Along with high GPAs, successful intern applicants bring something else to Aera’s table.
“We look for high-performing students who are engaged in the classroom and the community,” said Heidi Milbury, a human resources specialist who oversees Aera’s intern program.
Each intern works with a project mentor to guide his or her work. The mentors also help interns connect the value and impact of their project to Aera and to their own career development.
In addition, the interns take part in virtual workshops on professionalism, performance management, training in Aera’s Ambassador program and other development offerings.
“They’re introduced to all our departments to help them gain an understanding of potential career paths,” Milbury said. “Our employees create a supportive work environment for the interns.”
Solid training ground
Most Aera interns are engineering majors like Nicholas Bryan. He’s a sophomore at the Colorado School of Mines, where he’s pursuing a petroleum engineering degree.
At Aera, Bryan is comparing the efficiency and costs of two types of oil pumps. One is the traditional “horsehead” oil pump, used in about 95% of the wells in the Belridge field. The other is the much-newer “plunger lift” mechanism.
“Being assigned to such an important project has inspired me to work at a far higher level,” said Bryan from his home in Utah. “Aera has empowered me to do much more than I thought I was capable of.”
Not all Aera interns, however, come from STEM disciplines. One example is Caleb Trieu, a junior at Cornell University in New York.
Trieu is majoring in hotel administration and has already interned with the Hilton and Westin hotel chains. His major might seem an unlikely fit for an oil and gas company. But Trieu sees infinite career applications.
“Most people think that means working only in hotels,” said Trieu, a native of Bakersfield. “It goes way beyond that.”
He believes his major’s heavy course load in business administration, communication and finance can apply to any company or industry. Its focus on people is another plus.
All that is helping Trieu as he examines COVID-19’s impact on internal communications between Aera leaders and employees. His conclusions and recommendations will help determine the best channels for future information-sharing at Aera.
The money helps too
Aera pays its interns “a highly competitive wage,” said Milbury. That’s another bonus for these high-performing students.
“My parents are low-income, so what I earn at Aera will help pay for my college expenses this coming year,” said intern Carlos Aguilar.
The Bakersfield native will enter the University of California-San Diego as a freshman this fall and major in neurobiology.
At Aera, Aguilar is using advanced software to pinpoint the locations and other data for thousands of oil wells in the Belridge and Midway-Sunset fields. The goal is to make it easier for Aera engineers to access the data to determine the wells’ drilling viability.
Last year, eight Aera interns received full-time job offers when they graduated. Three, including Sandoval, returned as interns this summer.
In 2020, when hundreds of companies have canceled programs or rescinded offers due to the COVID-19 crisis, Aera’s interns appreciate the opportunity to learn at one of California’s largest oil and gas producers.
“I am very fortunate to have been entrusted with such a meaningful project this summer,” said Bryan. “On top of that, it’s been with a company that’s famous for how it treats its employees – even down to sophomore interns.”