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2019 CPN summer interns build pathways to different futures

During the summer months of 2019, Citizen Potawatomi Nation welcomed 19 interns who worked in many Tribal departments, enterprises and career fields. The warmer months remain the most popular time to experience the Tribe as an employer; however, the program continues during the school year.

CPN Education Department Internship and Project Coordinator Channing Seikel sees the experience as an essential part of career development.

“Having the opportunity to go ahead and understand what the Tribe does for the community and what a sovereign nation is, I think is just phenomenal,” for both tribal and non-tribal members, she said.

Summer sessions last six weeks and provide the knowledge that comes with attaining and keeping a full-time job. This year’s students worked everywhere from the FireLake Wellness Center to the Tribal administration’s Information Technology department.

Seikel conducts interviews and considers resumes while placing students, and while they may not end up in their exact line of study, she matches them with a department that rounds out their skill set and experience. The program is flexible, and Seikel encourages applicants to consider those new options.

“I wish I would have been able to kind of get my feet wet in different areas of study and different career paths,” she said.

CPN welcomes anyone in higher education to apply — undergraduates, graduate students, vo-tech students — with no age, degree or tribal affiliation requirements. Three of this summer’s interns came from a wide variety of experiences and degree paths.

Payge Wilson, Optometry

Payge Wilson attends Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, studying business with plans to transition to the university’s optometry program. She hopes to own a practice someday, and her summer as part of the Tribe’s optometry department allowed her to gain knowledge on how a small clinic operates.

“Shadowing for this long is a really good experience because you do get to see a lot of day-to-day stuff and kind of how it works to be a doctor,” she said.

Wilson pre-tested patients before their appointments, checking their pressures and taking retinal images of the backs of their eyes. She also sat in on exams, appreciating the chance to ask questions and have both optometrists explain what they see and recommend.

“You get to see someone that has been in the optometry field for a very long time, and then you get to see someone that comes right out of school and the different techniques,” Wilson said. “It’s been pretty cool to actually see both of those.”

Along with working at the contact lens department at NSU’s optometry college in Tahlequah, this internship helped build her confidence in optometry as a career choice.

Isaac Morris, Tribal Court

Isaac Morris attends law school at Oklahoma City University, pursuing his American Indian law certificate. As a graduate student, he cherished the chance to sit in on all kinds of court cases.

“It really opened my eyes to how a tribal court is run. … It’s more laid back. It’s more of a hands-on approach,” he said.

Toward the end of his internship, he wrote, filed and presented his first petition as part of a legal case.

“Doing legal research for actual things that matter in cases instead of just for hypothetical situations in school is much different,” Morris said.

Hoping to work for the Tribe as a lawyer, he began his internship with a different experience in mind, shadowing the legal department. The time in Tribal Court showed another side of the profession as a prosecutor.

“I didn’t know if I was cut out for that kind of work,” Morris said. “And seeing how tribal courts are not as adversarial, it was more of like we’re trying to grow together as a community. So, I can see myself, in this context, being a prosecutor.”

He encourages everyone to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the education department as well as becoming more involved as a CPN member through cultural classes and resources.

Alex Upton, Information Technology

Alex Upton attends Seminole State College in Seminole, Oklahoma. After earning his associate degree in liberal studies, he plans to transfer to the University of Oklahoma to study management information systems.

His dad told him about the internships at CPN, and Upton decided to learn from the Tribal administration’s IT department.

“I’ve been interested in it, but I haven’t done a lot of IT stuff until I started this internship. So, it’s been a really good experience learning all the insides of the computer, like the hardware, and little tidbits that I never knew,” he said.

Upton previously held positions at FireLake Golf Course and FireLake Discount Foods, and a full-time internship seemed like the next step to him.

“Since I’m a Tribal member, I think it’ll help me get really intertwined with the Tribe and make good connections for my future,” he said.

Upton spent time answering and finishing help desk tickets, logging equipment and fixing electronics as part of the department. He knows his time with computers and technology just started.

“There’s so much more I could learn within the same aspect,” he said. “Maybe more like things to do with hardware, like the guts of the computer, and things like cybersecurity and some networking.”

CPN pays interns $10 per hour, and individual institutions determine if time spent at the Nation counts as class credit. Applications require a resume and cover letter.

The CPN Education Department accepts applications for fall internships through July 10, spring through Nov. 10 and summer through April 10. For more information, visit cpn.news/education or email Channing Seikel at channing.seikel@potawatomi.org.