McKenzie Jensen had a summer internship unlike most University of Nebraska-Lincoln students, earning over $28,000, making lifelong friendships with students from around the world and building her character and work ethic in the process.
Jensen, a sophomore business and communications double major, was the number one first-year dealer worldwide for Southwestern Advantage. Working with more than 1,600 students from more than 200 campuses worldwide, Jensen outsold all first-year students in selling educational materials to families in New Hampshire.
“At the beginning of the summer, I had no idea that I was on track to be the number one first-year,” she said. “I was just really shocked, and sometimes I still am shocked.”
Southwestern Advantage offers summer internships to college students around the world selling educational products to families across the United States and Canada. Justin Wiebelhaus, a senior finance major and a manager and recruiter for Southwestern Advantage, said the company is in the business of helping families, with education as a main priority.
“The huge thing for this last summer is just how big of an impact we’ve had on freshmen and sophomores doing the program for the first time and the results,” Wiebelhaus said.
Interns are placed in a community outside of their own, he said, which allows them to establish more personal relationships with customers and find families who could benefit from personalized educational resources. Instead of selling in a mall kiosk, conversations can take place in a family’s living room or on their front porch.
“Education can be an emotional topic for some families,” Wiebelhaus said. “Whether that be the kids getting bad grades or they’re getting bullied in school and that’s hurting their grades … they’ll tell me in the confidence of their home, and that can be a big part of helping them.”
Sellers build their own business, manage customer relations and the sales process, identify and fulfill needs, take payments, follow up with customers and deliver the final products, according to Wiebelhaus.
Rather than go door-to-door, he said the students rely on references and referrals to learn who in a community is education conscience and who is not in an effort to maximize the company’s impact.
Each night, Jensen said she would plan a map of where she wanted to sell and knew which house she was going to visit first.
She would wake up early and get out of the house as fast as possible to start the day. The recommended goal was to see 30 families in a day and visit the first family at 8 a.m., but Jensen said she pushed herself to see 45 families and be on the doorstep of her first family at 7:45 a.m. each day.
Monday through Saturday for 12 weeks, working 14-hour days, Jensen pushed herself out of her comfort zone. Her favorite time to meet with families was after the work day had ended, around 5-7 p.m., so she could meet with the kids and hear first-hand about what they were struggling with.
“The main goal is to really help the kids and take off that stress from school and activities and all the craziness that they’re going through,” she said.
Each night, Jensen said she would call her assigned student leader who previously completed the internship and give a breakdown on how the day went. The student leader would offer advice and suggestions, as well as positive affirmations.
“With positive affirmations, it’s just super great to really recognize that you are human and everyone fails, and failure is good because you learn from you,” Jensen said. “Just having a positive self-talk really influence my days because 14-hour days can be tough at times. Rain or shine, every day is different.”
Jensen said she did not set out to be the number one first-year in the company, but her coaches and mentors, as well as her work ethic, pushed her to succeed.
“I learned from them what they’ve experienced and they had suggestions,” she said. “I was just super open-minded about the whole entire process and if they wanted me to try something, I was super quick to apply it.”
Jensen said she was able to make lifelong friendships with students from around the world through the program and is now able to reach out to them if she needs anything.
“It’s great to have a big group of friends, but it’s really awesome to have people where you can talk about your goals and where you want to be in five years,” Jensen said. “I just know that I have lifelong friendships now which is so, so cool.”
She also said she had a discovery in her faith and realized the impact she had on every family she met. She learned the importance of pushing past her personal belief barriers while knowing God had a plan for her every single day.
“It’s a really great internship for students just to really learn how to be the best version of [themselves],” Jensen said.
From products focused on colors, words and shapes for two-year-olds, to ACT and SAT prep for high school students, Wiebelhaus said Southwestern Advantage is constantly looking to improve its products and help families.
“No kid could do worse if they have a bunch of colors, words and shapes and books about science in their house,” he said. “It’s better to have this than to not have it.”
Southwestern Advantage is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. At the beginning of each summer, the interns attend a free, seven-day sales school. Jensen said the training offered a crash course in the program with the opportunity to learn directly from the president and director of sales for Southwestern Advantage.
“It’s very overwhelming learning all that in one week, but there’s nothing that is surprising to you because they … want you to know everything before they just throw you out there into the internship,” she said. “It’s very overwhelming but super, super powerful with what you learn and who you meet.”
Upon her return from New Hampshire, Jensen began her second year with an entirely new focus: the impact she could have on herself and others.
Jensen said she is now a student leader and is building her own team to take with her somewhere in the country. She said she wants to double her summer in incomer units, a way to compare products to dollar amounts, and recruit 10 students from UNL or other campuses in Nebraska to do the internship.
Jensen is currently visualizing her goals and creating a vision for where she wants her team to go in the future. She said she looks forward to continually having an impact on more students.
“If any students are kind of just trying to figure out where they are, where they want to be, our internship is a really, really great resource to find that out and find out who you want to be,” she said. “I’m just so thankful for that and all the people that I was able to meet, and I’m just looking forward to what’s next.”