When you think of a computer scientist, you might envision someone coding alone in a dark room. But Michael Mecklenburg, a junior information technology and business administration major at Union College, proves that’s not the case.

“Both IT and business are fast-paced and always changing,” he said. “You have to constantly get out there and learn about new things, which for me is very exciting.”

Mecklenburg is a recipient of the Nebraska Career Scholarship. Created by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, this program is designed to provide scholarships to college students pursuing high-demand careers. To receive the scholarship, students must live in Nebraska while in college and participate in a Nebraska-based career-related work experience. Mecklenburg has gone above and beyond, landing not just one, but two internships at local businesses.

“The summer before my sophomore year, I worked at Sandhills Global as a help desk support and corporate IT guy. Then last summer, I worked for First National Bank of Omaha. That was a huge opportunity for me since only three intern applicants out of over 100 were accepted. I got to do a lot of things there, like system administration.

“I’ve learned a lot at my internships. I can apply the things I learn in my classes, and then I get more out of the experience. And vice versa: when I come back to classes after my internships, I have a deeper understanding of why we’re learning what we’re learning. Internships are the best thing in the entire world and I think that everyone should try to have as many as possible.”

Brent Page, director of the Computer Science Program, encourages students to get as much relevant work experience as they can. “I like to remind students that we’re going to work with real people,” Page said. “We’re not a group that gets the luxury of hiding in a dark room and not having to talk with anyone. Being able to interact with people and figure out what solutions are able to fit their needs can be very rewarding.”

Often college students studying computer science don’t complete an internship until the summer between junior and senior year, but Union does things differently. “We’re designing the program in a way so that students are ready to start internships between their freshman and sophomore year,” Page said. “Michael’s a good example of a student who’s taken advantage of multiple internship opportunities to make what he learns in class more relevant.”

Union’s computer science and information technology majors spend a lot of their time creating models and assessing situations they might actually see in the workplace. “I really appreciate that we’re not just sitting in lectures and watching PowerPoints; instead we’re actually practicing for the real world,” said Mecklenburg.

Not only is Mecklenburg already thinking about where he’ll intern next summer, but he’s also planning for after college. “When I graduate, I want to work for a managed service provider, which is an organization that provides IT support to multiple companies. After a few years, I’d like to start my own business — an MSP of my own, or a consulting firm. I’ve even thrown around the idea of becoming a sales engineer. I feel prepared for any job I would want to take on.”