Alumni-Student Connections

Making a Connection

College of Idaho alumni help students pursue their dreams

For Matt Smith ’01, an internship at a RehabAuthority clinic in Nampa proved to be a defining moment in his experience as a College of Idaho student. It solidified his desire to pursue a career in physical therapy, a career which eventually brought him back to Caldwell, where he established RehabAuthority’s new clinic in October 2011.

That internship was made possible by fellow C of I alumnus and RehabAuthority CEO Kevin Hulsey ’88, who arranged the internship and served as Smith’s supervisor.

“It was a really fun, enjoyable atmosphere,” said Smith, who returned to work for RehabAuthority in 2004 after earning his doctorate in physical therapy.

Today, Smith is sharing his knowledge with a new generation of College of Idaho students, including current senior Aly Hall.

“It was so nice in my internship to have a role model who had come out of The College of Idaho," said Hall, a health sciences major. "Matt is a terrific teacher. What amazed me was, when I walked into the clinic, I knew this was what I wanted to do the rest of my life.”

Opening doors

Hall had been thinking about a career in physical therapy for some time but she, like many students, wasn’t sure if it was the right path for her. So during her junior year, Hall sought help finding an internship through Dora Gallegos, director of the College’s Center for Experiential Learning.

Smith had just opened RehabAuthority’s Caldwell clinic, making it the perfect opportunity for Hall to gain some practical experience and discover whether physical therapy was a good fit. While Hall said she learned much from Smith and other RehabAuthority staff about the day-to-day work that physical therapists do, the internship also helped her think about the bigger issues involved in choosing a career.  

“Professionalism is a big key with any job you have and Matt is a great role model for professionalism,” Hall said. “Whether it’s how you interact with a patient or how you work with your colleagues, professionalism is showing yourself through a profession.

“Since I was 5, I always said that my goal in life was to help people significantly every single day. I didn’t necessarily want to be a doctor, but I wanted to be someone who could help people heal, emotionally and physically, and now I’ve seen how physical therapy can allow me to do that.”

For students like Hall, being connected with an alumnus who is working in their field of interest is one of the best opportunities to go beyond an ordinary internship and have an experience that is truly meaningful.

Terra Feast ’02, curator of education at Boise Art Museum, has worked with more than a dozen student interns from the C of I since she began working for the museum in 2005.

“We match students to their interests and we also match them to the needs of the museum,” Feast said. That means some internship experiences are more focused on education, while others involve conducting research and even helping with the day-to-day operations of the museum.

In December 2011, senior history major Hillary Bodnar started an internship at Boise Art Museum conducting research in support of the “Eastern Traditions/Western Expressions” exhibit. 

“It was a combination of history, art and education working in a museum setting,” Bodnar said. “Those were three of my four areas of study, so it was a perfect fit.”

Bodnar’s research focused on finding out more about the art and artists represented in the exhibit, which included both traditional Asian art and contemporary works by American and Asian-American artists. That information was used in BAM’s educational programs for children and other groups.

"As an education minor, after working with the Boise Art Museum it seemed much more plausible that I could work in an educational role in a museum because it combines a lot of the things I enjoy,” Bodnar said. 

A chance to give back

Alumnus Mike Tankersley ’11 always had a passion for graphic design, and it led him to start Signs2U, a sign manufacturing company in Boise, while he was finishing up his final courses at the C of I.

After becoming an adviser to the College’s Delta Tau Delta chapter in 2008, Tankersley said he had a conversation with the late business professor Michael Erickson about how the College was encouraging more students to obtain internships.

“I thought it was a good idea and I started talking to a couple of students about their internship experiences,” Tankersley said.

From those conversations, he developed his own internship program for Signs2U. The program is designed to make sure C of I students gain a more in-depth grasp of how a business actually runs.

“The biggest thing is, especially if you go into corporate America, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to be doing,” Tankersley said. “The biggest problem students face is they go into their careers where they think they know what it’s going to be like, and the reality is they have to do a lot of other things.”

Signs2U has hosted C of I interns during each of the past three summers, most recently Joe Lehmann, a junior creative writing major.

Lehmann helped manage the company’s social media, wrote new copy for its website and created a more focused advertising campaign in the Boise market with Google AdWords during his internship.

“It definitely helped doing my internship with a C of I alumnus because he knew what undergrads like me are going through,” Lehmann said. “It also really helped foster a sense of inspiration because you see them running a successful organization. He’s using everything he learned (at the College) to run a successful business.”

For Tankersley, hosting interns has provided a chance to give back to his alma mater. At the same time, he noted that every C of I intern has, as with Lehmann’s Google AdWords campaign, contributed to the success of his business.

“What I have learned on the business side is young blood is crucial for a small business,” Tankersley said. “You get so stuck onto what is, and young eyes always have new ideas about how to do something. There has not been a single intern who has not had an idea that benefitted our company in some way.”