Q&A: Rockwell Labs Dr. Cisse Spragins talks internships


February 6, 2017

Dr. Cisse Spragins

Dr. Cisse Spragins, Founder and CEO, Rockwell Labs Ltd

1. How has Rockwell’s internship program evolved since having Yareli Hernandez as your first intern in 2014?

Yareli came to us through happenstance, when a local business associate whose husband was a teacher at North Kansas City High School introduced us to her. Since that time, we’ve formalized the program by actively seeking interns through Northland CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies, a local program) as well as through personal connections. As far as the interns’ work projects, that part is relatively similar, though we have integrated work in the manufacturing area for most interns, vs. just lab work.

2. What is Rockwell’s internship application process like?

In the CAPS application process, we describe what we do, what we offer and what we are looking for — but not in a huge amount of detail. It isn’t super time-consuming. The various options are presented to the students, then they send candidates over for us to interview.

3. Do you put a limit on the amount of CAPS interns you take?

We specify that we want up to two; however, last year, they had three candidates who were really interested. I have a hard time saying “no” to them if they want to be here, so we took all three last spring. I am also committed to offering them paid employment over the summer if they want it, and all three did. Then Sarah Piburn, the previous year’s intern, came back after her first year of college, so we had four over the summer. That was kind of a lot, but we managed and I think it was worthwhile.

4. By the time this interview appears, you’ll likely be working with your spring semester interns. Do you have a future vision for this program as it expands?

I would like to expand it to other areas, outside of chemistry lab and manufacturing. Entomology would be good, though that is harder because most of our research is not done at our main office location. Other areas of interest would be marketing/graphic design, accounting, and manufacturing maintenance. The last is an area of extreme need in the U.S., as so many skilled mechanics are retiring, and manufacturing requires a broad skill set including electrical/electronics, mechanical and fabrication, plumbing and pneumatics, etc.

5. What is your advice to others in the pest management industry — suppliers and otherwise — for attracting more women to the technical side of entomology and chemistry?

People learn by doing, and what is theoretical becomes real when they put it into practice. And people benefit greatly from role models. You don’t have to be a woman to be a career role model for a young woman, but if you are, that’s great.

If you have interns, give them their own projects. Don’t just have them watch what someone else does. You will often be surprised at what they can accomplish, and they can help your business get things done that have been put off due to time constraints. The most frequent feedback I get from our interns is that they love being treated like an adult and being given projects to complete that include decision-making, vs. just watching what someone else does, or washing dishes in the lab. They’ll approach with vigor the projects that your staff may be putting off. It’s a win-win.

Editor Heather Gooch can be reached at hgooch@northcoastmedia.net or 330-321-9754.

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