Paid Summer Internships Provide UM Students Valuable Career Readiness

MacKenzie Weiland is one of numerous students who pursued valuable internships this summer through ElevateU, the University’s career readiness program.

MISSOULA – It’s a safe bet there aren’t many University of Montana students who can boast to learning tons about frogs this summer, but ecosystem science and restoration major Mackenzie Weiland has accomplished just that during her 2022 research internship.

Wearing hip waders and packing traps, Weiland studied egg masses and tadpole development in Milltown State Park to pinpoint possible causes for reductions in tadpole development in the federal Superfund site and now popular park.

“Chances are that predation by nonnative fish is affecting tadpoles,” said Weiland, who has loved frogs and turtles since childhood. “Although metal contamination in the area could also be a factor."

Weiland, who plans to conduct metal testing before the summer is over, is one of 11 students who pursued valuable internships this summer thanks in part to scholarships made possible by the generous support of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation. The scholarships, part of a nearly $1 million grant to UM’s Experiential Learning and Career Success office, were coordinated through ElevateU, the University’s career readiness program.

Photo of Amber Guerra

Wildlife biology undergraduate Amber Guerra used her summer internship to broaden her knowledge on policy making related to environmental justice and waste cleanup.

Too often, experience-building internships are unpaid or students only receive a small stipend. In this way, unpaid internships perpetuate inequality, with valuable career-building opportunities often out of reach for first-generation or minority students. Creating more accessible internship and work experience opportunities, then, is central part of UM’s efforts to prepare students for their careers after graduation, said Andrea Vernon executive director for UM’s ELCS.

“Summer is a time for many students to earn money for the upcoming school year,” Vernon said. “Without help, they can’t afford to invest time getting hands-on experience in their field.”

Each of the interns this summer received $1,000 through the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation’s support of ElevateU, making what may have been an inaccessible opportunity within reach for these students.

“We are deeply grateful for this support of students and UM’s signature career-readiness program, ElevateU. The internship support for students is especially impactful,” Vernon said. “It’s well known that students who participate in internships during their academic studies are more successful in finding employment in their field. They also start out at higher responsibility levels and they advance faster in their careers.”

In addition to connecting students to experience-building internships, ElevateU provides all UM students with career coaching and structured career development programming.  

“Combining hands-on learning through internships and apprenticeships with academic studies is the best way to prepare students for successful careers immediately upon graduation,” said Mike Halligan, executive director of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation.The Washington Companies aggressively pursues internships and apprenticeships as a great way to create a pipeline of future, highly engaged and highly qualified employees.”

Photo of Lauren Tucker

Lauren Tucker, an exercise science major, gained valuable experience working with seniors while on her internship to Costa Rica.

Wildlife biology undergraduate Amber Guerra initially turned down an invitation to participate in a public policy and natural resources internship program this summer in Washington, D.C., because she couldn’t afford not to work for pay. Thanks to a stipend from the program and ElevateU, however, she ultimately got to work in the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance. The experience she said is broadening her knowledge on policy making related to environmental justice and waste cleanup.

“I’ve worked on a number of projects, including writing story maps looking at the successful cleanup of abandoned mines that will be published on a public website,” Guerra said. “It’s rewarding in these cases to see happy endings.”

As a member of UM’s Franke Global Leadership Initiative, exercise science major Lauren Tucker is required to complete a 12-week abroad experience. She applied for a scholarship from ElevateU to travel to Costa Rica to work at health clinics where she gained clinical experience toward her goal of being a physical therapist. While there she worked with elderly adults at a day center teaching them about health issues like diabetes and leading them through chair exercises.

Photo of Rianna Bowers in firewise garden

Environmental science and sustainability major Rianna Bowers spent her summer internship tending to UM’s Firewise Demonstration Garden.

“It was really a great opportunity to learn how to see the needs of clients, to meet those needs and to ask important questions,” she said. “I am so excited about where this experience will take me.”

Environmental science and sustainability major Rianna Bowers spent her summer internship tending to UM’s Firewise Demonstration Garden, where she learned valuable skills for cultivating plants that reduce the risk of property loss from fire. Bowers has assisted with general maintenance of the garden, hosted volunteer events and provided tours to school children.

“I am very passionate about creating a better community around me,” she said. “I hope to use these experiences to work for a nonprofit or in agricultural justice.”

Mark Spring, who is majoring in multidisciplinary studies with a focus and minor in gerontology combined with nonprofit administration, is committed to improving the lives of senior Montanans. He spent his internship fulfilling

Photo of Mark Spring

Gerontology student Mark Spring is committed to improving the lives of seniors and spent his internship fulfilling many roles at the Missoula Senior Center.

many roles at the Missoula Senior Center, where he serves as board president. That included preparing lunch meals, learning about the organization’s financials, operating its thrift shop and even renewing a gaming license for bingo.

“I just jumped in here and started learning about governance to follow my interest in nonprofit management,” said Spring, who is a member of UM’s Davidson Honors College. “The scholarship gave me the boost I needed to free my mind from personal financial concerns and concentrate on learning.”


The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation supports a broad spectrum of worthy organizations benefiting at-risk youth, economically and socially disadvantaged individuals and families, and those with special needs. The foundation is funded by contributions from the Washington Companies and the Washington Family.

The UM Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization that has inspired philanthropic support to enhance excellence and opportunity at UM since 1950.

Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM strategic communications director, 406-243-5659,