By MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Growing up in New Jersey, Amber McGarvey ’15 and Courtney Wojcik ’17 had heard a lot of buzz about TerraCycle, a Princeton-based recycling/upcycling company that's been named one of the fastest-growing green companies in the world. Still, they were surprised when they reported to work for their first day as TerraCycle interns and learned that a camera crew would be filming a documentary on site, highlighting the company's distinctive culture and leading-edge work.
The television series, Human Resources, is not your typical reality-TV show. It's produced by Participant Media, a company that uses film, television, publishing and digital content to effect social change (past projects include An Inconvenient Truth, Food, Inc., Waiting for Superman and Lincoln).
McGarvey, a rising senior with previous internship experience at a small nonprofit, earned a summer position in the company’s executive office. Wojcik, a rising sophomore, cut her internship teeth in TerraCycle’s accounts-management department. Below, they discuss what they’ve learned during these uncommon internships, as well as what it's like when your internship reality meets reality TV.
Wojcik: Not yet declared.
McGarvey: environmental science and history.
Wojcik: Reinvest Dickinson, Phoenix and EarthNow.
On choosing this internship:
Wojcik: I wanted to intern with a local business that was sustainability-minded, and since I worked with [TerraCycle] in high school—while I was earning my Girl Scout Silver Award—I knew it would be a perfect fit.
McGarvey: I heard a lot about TerraCycle through press coverage, and I kept it in the back of my mind as a company that I should one day get involved with. Then, last year, while I was studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, I e-mailed [my future supervisor at TerraCycle], and she told me I was a strong fit.
Wojcik: I usually start each day by helping my account manager with smaller tasks, such as updating Excel data, checking social-media activity and creating PowerPoint presentations to be used in meetings with our brand partners. Then I work on long-term research projects that involve [TerraCycle’s] partnership with [my supervisor's] biggest client.
McGarvey: I research potential partners and investors and then present [my findings] to the company’s global vice presidents. I also update databases and work on projects. One [project involves] streamlining assessments that show how much greenhouse gas TerraCycle has prevented from being released into the atmosphere. We also just launched a cigarette-butt recycling program in New Orleans that reduces pollution, turns litter into recycled plastic products and even raises money for charity.
On what it’s like to take part in a workplace documentary:
Wojcik: I found out about [Human Resources] on my first day, when I walked into the middle of a scene being filmed in my department! I was pretty excited about the prospect of being on TV, and I loved that the experience just added to TerraCycle's quirkiness.
McGarvey: It’s been fascinating to watch reality TV being filmed in front of me all summer. They were always filming around my desk with a crew of about five people, and at first, I was afraid to get up and walk through or behind the shot. Eventually, I realized that they really are trying to catch footage of normal workplace culture, so I shouldn't feel like I need to avoid the cameras.
Advice to students considering internships:
McGarvey: Get to know other interns and staff members. [My supervisor] encouraged me to organize an intern social committee. We planned excursions to restaurants and to places like a local museum and a minor-league baseball game. This allowed me to make valuable connections with interns and with staff members who also attended.
Wojcik: Take an internship! Whether paid or unpaid, internships allow you to get your feet wet and gain knowledge, skills, experience and connections.
On the joy of mealtime mentorship:
Wojcik: The Intern Lunch [a twice-weekly program that brings interns together with employees who enjoy mentoring] is the best part of the day. A senior employee at TerraCycle—even the CEO, Tom Szaky—will sit down with the interns for an hour to talk about our career paths and give us professional advice.
McGarvey: I help my supervisor run [the Intern Lunch]; I love it, because have learned so much about my co-workers. They each have unique stories about how they ended up working at an environmentally conscious company. They’ve taught me valuable lessons about how to navigate professional life.
Published August 20, 2014