Join the Jindal School Community!


Christian’s Summer Internship at BNSF Railway

read ( words)

Christian Kelly applied to over 70 internships before grabbing his first internship at BNSF Railway 

Christian Kelly, a senior supply chain major at the Jindal School, participated in a summer internship with BNSF Railway to learn more about his field before going into the Supply Chain Management Fast-Track Master’s program. This summer he will be interning with Shell Oil Company in Houston. In his interview, Christian discusses the importance of multiple internships in finding what position is right for you.

Q: Where was your internship?

My summer internship was with the BNSF railway. I spent my internship shadowing the train master, who manages the blue-collar employees out in the yard. It was a very interesting internship experience, because the environment of the railroad is 24 hours. The people I shadowed worked three days on, three days off, 12 hours on, 12 hours off. It was a very different experience from everything I learned and was told about in school.

Q: Tell us about your next summer internship.

I applied online to Shell Oil Company. It was a very strenuous interview process, consisting of two tests with difficult math. One test was decision making; the other consisted of conversions from euros to dollars in regard to oil prices. You had to complete 18 questions in 20 minutes. Luckily, one of my friends who worked at Shell gave me tips on how he passed the test. I used my network of friends to get through that process and got the callback for the interview. With oil prices dropping, Shell was unsure how many interns they would be able to take. They called me a week later and told me they were looking for where they could place interns. Four months after I took the initial test, they sent me an offer.

Q: Is the summer internship in Dallas or somewhere else?

It will be in Houston. I’m from Lewisville, so I will be moving there.

Q: Will moving to Houston be hard?

I don’t think so. My summer internship with BNSF was in Los Angeles. That was my first three months away from home.

Q: What did you take away from the experience?

There were over a hundred interns at BNSF that summer who they sent out to different locations. Even though it was very organized when we were there, everyone in the workplace, with the exception of your supervisor, is as lost as you are the first day. My supervisor was sick my first day, and most of the employees had no idea what I was supposed to do. I learned that, as an intern, you have to ask questions a lot. I had to engage and ask questions. I would do anything to help me get a better understanding. I got to go out with the employees and work on the rails, which gave me a better overview of what was going on in the company. The people I shadowed had cameras with monitors in front of them; they weren’t out in the yard, so that experience really helped me grasp what our business was.

Q: What was the office culture like?

This was a very different situation from what I was used to. I reported at 5 a.m. every morning, because it is a 24-hour workplace. The management works in a nice trailer, all open space, no cubicles. Everyone has to work together to make sure things are going smoothly and the trains leave on time, so it was a very different culture. It was pretty laid back. They often brought food into the office for everyone to eat because there were only about 12 upper-level management employees working in there. BNSF covers an area from Los Angeles to Arizona, so when something went wrong, it was a bit hectic. I knew to stop asking questions and try to figure out what was going on so I didn’t step on anyone’s toes.

Q: Did you sleep in the trailer?

No. I was granted a housing stipend. I went through Airbnb to find my housing for the duration of my summer internship.

Q: What was the dress code?

They gave me equipment and safety gear to wear on the first day of the job. I had steel-toed boots, gloves, a safety vest and a hard hat. It was nice; most corporate summer interns spend their break in a business professional setting every day. At BNSF they just wore jeans and a tucked-in polo. Occasionally I saw people walking around in tennis shoes. It was very laid back and not very uptight, which was nice.

Q: Do you keep in contact with your fellow interns or your mentor?

I had both a mentor and a supervisor. I kept in contact with my mentor by asking him about different opportunities within the company. It was good to know I could have a connection with the employees on the inside. I really liked the network-building opportunities they provided by assigning mentors to summer interns. I kept in contact with the other interns for quite a while. However, since I was a year younger than them, they were all receiving job offers while I was being offered another internship. That cut off most of the connection, but I would see most of them again if I joined the company.

Q: Do you have any embarrassing stories?

When I was out on the yard, some of the workers gave me the safety hat and told me to write “intern” on it so everyone would know who I was. I thought it was a good point, so I wrote it, but they were just giving me a hard time. I’m pretty good at shrugging it off, so I was fine when they all laughed. With the white-collar upper management, it was more formal, but the blue-collar employees loved to make jokes. I had to learn to take jabs here and there and play with them a little. It was a fun environment and a lesson in how to adapt to work best with different employees.

Q: How did you get the internship?

I went through a third-party company called Inroads. They are a very philanthropic staffing company that finds paid internships for undergraduate students. Most of the companies who hire interns through their website have a contract, so I received an email about the position. It was funny because I was in Los Angeles and was disappointed because I thought I was going to have to travel back to Fort Worth, but that is just where the headquarters are. I interviewed there, and then was given the opportunity to go back to California for the summer. My friend who worked at Shell introduced me to Inroads, which was how I found my first internship, because the company really helps place people without experience.

Q: What was your work schedule?

It was nice, since I had always wanted to live in California. Since it was a 24-hour environment I could come in whenever I want. I would wake up early to avoid the L.A. traffic and work from 7 a.m. to 2 in the afternoon. Then I would have the rest of the day to myself. It was a very free schedule that felt almost like a vacation.

Q: Do you want to go back?

While I did like the company culture and schedule, it was very expensive. California is amazing, but it has a very high cost of living. The work schedule, working for 12 hours three days, then having three days off was nice at first. After three months, however, you have to work the same schedule as a night-shift worker. Luckily, summer interns were not required to work that schedule, as I would not have enjoyed it. I tried to switch to the corporate side of the company, but they did not take any new interns this past summer, so I ended up at Shell.

Q: What do you wish you would have known before your summer internship?

It is better to ask questions than to make mistakes, which is the opposite of the “better to ask forgiveness than permission” philosophy. My biggest regret was not asking questions or asking for help, because it always set back my projects.

Q: What advice can you give students looking for internships?

Rejection is never a bad thing. I applied to 70 companies for a summer internship. It was a tedious process that I worked on in spare time. Out of those 70, only five said they were interested in interviewing me. Out of those five interviews, BNSF was the only one I was offered a position with. You have to commit to the process, apply wherever you can and hope you have what it takes.

Q: Is it important to have more than one internship?

I think it is important to have more than one, because I was able to see which companies were a good fit for me. BNSF was a great company, but it wasn’t for me. If I had not interned there, I could have been blindly hired out of school into a position I was unhappy with. Since I started earlier, multiple summer internships have helped me decide where I want to go. More internships can only help you. Start early. Even if you aren’t hired as a freshman or sophomore, they will know in future years you have applied, which helps to get you that interview. Before you go into the interview, do your research about the company. Knowing about their history shows the employer that you are interested in the company and have already devoted your time to researching who they are.

Gaby Mokry

Gaby is pursuing her MS Marketing program at The Jindal School of Management. Before coming to UT Dallas, she gained experience at traditional and digital advertising agencies. She appreciates a freshly brewed cup of joe and spends her free time surrounding herself with creative projects, Netflix binges and biking on White Rock Lake. Read more articles

Subscribe to JSOM Perspectives, one stop shop for everything you want to know about JSOM

Subscribe to receive our freshest post in your inbox every two weeks!