A summer internship managing paint crews may not seem like the natural path for a psychology major.
It was a question Megan Straka asked when the College Works Painting internship came up at her school at Mankato State. But when the offer to learn more about a summer internship was offered at the university, she thought why not. An entrepreneurial nature may be inherited in Straka's case.
When she spoke to the College Works Painting representative, she was asked about her work ethic. She pointed to the eight different businesses her parents operated when she was growing up and her participation in them along with her brother. It was an eyebrow raising number.
Nick Schroer interviewed Straka and is her district manager.
"My first impression was wow this gal has been extremely busy and probably has the most experience with entrepreneurship that I've hired," Schroer said, adding it's pretty rare to find someone who has been involved in seven to eight startups. "I was impressed."
The endeavors included the restaurant Chico's Place in Onamia, providing firewood for 12 different state parks, septic systems installation, landscaping, a certified public accountant business and a family farm. Straka and her brother took over the firewood business when they were teens. For the 15-year-old Straka, it meant missing events and some high school sports practices. But the competitive Straka was willing to work hard to make up the time where she could.
After the conversation, Straka said the College Works rep said she was ready to move on to the next round of interviews.
"I didn't realize this was part of the interview process," she said of that initial conversation. She was asked to reach out to previous interns to get advice. And she went on through four rounds of interviews, including a phone interview, a Facetime interview and one in person-all in a week's time. Straka said they go in depth to make sure the interns are a good fit.
"I was super nervous at the last interview," she said.
And there was that question. How could this summer internship benefit a psychology major? The answer came in leadership, communication and customer service skills. It also involves managing multiple locations, going door-to-door to set up jobs and hiring painting crews. Straka said the business experience will benefit her no matter what the future holds.
"This will help me and my family with all their businesses, too," Straka said. "This will help me; it will put me apart from the rest of the people that are going to apply for graduate school, like I want to one day, or get a good job."
And Straka said she can see the skills coming into play if she decides to run her own business with her psychology degree. She's used to handling multiple projects at the same time. Straka is a three-sport athlete who played lead trumpet and is an accomplished artist with a paint brush.
"I'm pretty used to being all over the place," she said.
Straka started college classes in her sophomore year in high school so she was a year ahead in college with her credits. She is a college freshman now and hopes to graduate a year early.
As for painting experience, beyond the painting both on canvas and painting rooms in her family home, she said learning to approach it from a professional side compared to do-it-yourself really made a big difference. It's all about the prep time, Straka said.
Schroer said College Works Painting's goal is to provide the best learning experience a college student can have as branch managers are hands-on and have to run their own operations. They have mentors and help but they have to be accountable for their own time, Schroer said.
"This is arguably one of the hardest internships you can get when you are in school," he said, adding they had 18,000 applications for the internship in Minnesota and Iowa. They hired 80 students. Schroer said students find out their own strengths and weaknesses. "I truly believe it is the best learning experience you can have while you are in school. ... It's a big opportunity to learn about yourself, too."
Since her start, Straka added territory in Bemidji and St. Cloud when those initial internships didn't work out. She's now the branch manager for northern Minnesota, taking in painting jobs and hiring crews from St. Cloud, Brainerd and Bemidji. She's looking for other students who are interested in a summer job. All painters have to go through training to be certified. College Works Painting is paying $11 an hour up to $15 an hour with incentives. There are also bonuses.
College Works Painting was established in 1993 and is licensed and insured, according to its website and now operates in 35 states, painting more than 10,000 homes annually. Each year, about 2,000 college students are hired. The Better Business Bureau gives College Works Painting an A-plus rating with 4.95 out of 5 stars based on customer reviews.
With her home in Onamia, Straka is putting in a lot of windshield time. Juggling all the work, she also makes sure she has downtime to see a movie. This spring she was managing her last weeks of school and hiring painters and getting her work plan going. Organizational skills are a must. Getting jobs and finding people for the crews has been a learning experience. Two people work in a crew. She said she is looking for someone with a good work ethic and can represent her well.
"I want somebody that will actually realize that hey if you do quality work it will go a long way and the better work you do, the more it will benefit you as well," she said. "... My goal of this entire internship is not to get a bunch of money. It is to get a bunch of reference letters from my clients."
Straka said she wants her future employer to see her work ethic, her ability to follow through and do a quality job. Straka said she understands why the internship may not work for everyone because it is a lot of work. For one paint job, she made 36 calls. It can be overwhelming, she said, but that's when she calls the district manager and they problem solve. It takes discipline and persistence, Straka said. She knows some people may not take her seriously because of her age or gender but she said she's willing to prove to them she knows what she is talking about and is serious about the work. Straka has been using social media to help get the word out about the painting and job opportunities.
As for the future, Straka is undecided whether she'll go into forensic psychology or clinical psychology. But she is sure of her path to this point and what her parents and family gave her with their work experience. "They instilled a good work ethic in me and I'm grateful for it."