“Once in a lifetime opportunity” is a cliché too often employed by bad infomercials, but I can honestly say that my Cloud County Community College internship has been just that. My name is Tanner Smith, and I am studying in Concordia, Kansas to earn a degree in applied science in wind energy.
Before college, I didn’t understand the reasons or benefits for doing an internship. Why would someone want a job while they were still in college? Isn’t that what college is for? However, when my instructors approached me with an opportunity to do an internship at a wind farm in Spearville, Kansas, I thought it may be something I could benefit from and enjoy. So I submitted my résumé, and I was selected for a six week summer internship.
I packed up my things and headed towards western Kansas. About twenty miles outside of Spearville is when I saw my first glimpse of the wind farm that I would grow to love. My first day on the job was a little overwhelming; I had no idea what to expect. I was so excited and nervous that I forgot to pack a lunch! I will never forget my first day – it started with a tranquil light thunderstorm passing over the 1.5 megawatt GE wind turbines before the three-man crews could go out and work for the day. The feeling of anxiousness came over me when our foreman, Tim, told me that I would be conducting mechanical maintenance on turbine number thirteen (yes, I remember exactly which turbine it was). On my very first day on the wind farm I was going to be climbing a commercial-sized wind turbine! I quickly learned that no matter how good of shape you are in, climbing a 300 foot ladder with gear on can prove to be quite exhausting. Once at the top, we had to go through the typical maintenance measures – changing filters; checking torques, generator brushes, and brake pressure; and among many other tasks, lots of cleaning.
The internship consisted of in-depth instruction from wind technicians on how to troubleshoot, repair, and service these impressive machines. I will save the details for another time, but one of the most memorable experiences I had during my internship was stepping out on top of the nacelle and taking in the view from “my office.” That was one of the most exhilarating and proud moments that I have ever felt in my entire life. Standing on top of a wind turbine truly feels like you are standing on top of the world. It’s a rush unlike any other I have experienced, and to get paid to do something that I enjoy that much seems almost absurd. At that moment I thought, “This is exactly what I want to do. This is my dream job.” It may not be flashy, clean, or easy, but to find a job that fits your work ethic and challenges you in different ways every day is a great feeling. Plus, no one can frown upon a job that makes a difference in the environment and the clean energy movement. This is the kind of job that, 25 years down the road at my high school reunion, I will feel proud to tell anyone that I am a wind turbine technician.
In short, that is how going through this internship program affected me – by giving me applicable hands-on experience with wind turbines. By the time I graduate from Cloud County Community College, I will know that I am ready to work in the wind industry, and I will have the real-world experience to back it up. So was this internship a “once in a lifetime opportunity?” Yes and no. Yes, because I will never have an experience that impacts my career more than this internship. No, because I hope to work on wind turbines every day for the rest of my career.