Stephens experiences "real world" through internship at Clayton Homes

Stephens experiences “real world” through internship at Clayton Homes

Nov. 6, 2013
Contact: Chelsea Morgan, Communications Assistant

Through a summer internship at Clayton Homes, Kelly Stephens ‘14 has already had an opportunity to utilize her professional skills and experience a corporate work environment, but the Maryville College senior has taken away a lot more than real-world experience from her time at Clayton – Stephens has also found her calling.

Last May, Stephens, a psychology major from Knoxville, began her internship at Clayton Homes in Maryville, an award-winning home manufacturer that was established in 1934. At Clayton, she was responsible for researching methods by which the company’s leadership program could be evaluated and developing ways to implement them.

“Clayton is trying to evaluate its leadership program, so that’s kind of where my connection is,” Stephens said. “I’m showing them the research I have on evaluation, and then they’re going to try to incorporate that into what they’re doing.”

Niki Schrock, director of organization development at Clayton and Stephens’ internship advisor, said that Stephens’ contributions have been valued, as well as implemented.

“Kelly has brought a disciplined, scientific approach to the 360-degree survey we’re developing to assess our leaders’ progress on their development goals,” Schrock said. “She has done a lot of reading on measuring leadership programs, and she has asked the right questions at the right time to ensure that we are clear on the purpose of the survey and that we get actionable data from the responses.”

Stephens developed her research on evaluation into feedback questions for the program’s interview surveys, allowing her to apply what she had learned in an active business setting.

“One of the biggest benefits to Kelly has been being able to see how the reality of an organization’s culture, structure and resources affect the application of theory and best practice,” Schrock said. “She might read an article on how to give feedback or hold people accountable, and then we talk about how we can make that work here at Clayton.”

Stephens also used her internship experience as a significant part of her Senior Study.

One of the distinctive features of a Maryville education, the Senior Study requirement calls for students to complete a two-semester research and writing project that is guided by a faculty supervisor. According to the College’s catalog, the Senior Study program “facilitates the scholarship of discovery within the major field and integrates those methods with the educational goals fostered through the Maryville Curriculum.”

“I had been looking to find a study for my thesis that was relevant to evaluating a leadership program,” Stephens said “I needed an example of a leadership program to see how it is evaluating its effectiveness. A lot of the organizations that have the [leadership] program aren’t evaluating it at the end – it’s a really important step they’re missing out on.”

Although not mandatory for the completion of every major, all students of the College are encouraged to explore internship possibilities in order to gain practical experience, enhance career opportunities and foster students’ sense of vocation.

According to Crystal Colter, associate professor of psychology and Stephens’ thesis advisor, having the opportunity to incorporate an internship into the Senior Study process is especially beneficial to students.

“Kelly has benefited and gained more from her thesis research experience because it has been enhanced by the internship opportunity,” Colter said. “She has had the opportunity to work in partnership with an experienced professional in a field directly related to her research. Her senior study project will make an actual difference for company employees and leaders.”

In addition to providing experience and adding depth to her Senior Study, Stephens’ internship also helped her discover her career aspirations.

“I had an interest in working with everyday people – everyday, normally functioning people going through their daily lives,” Stephens said. “I had been looking into it a lot, but then working this summer in a business setting in my internship really helped me define exactly what I wanted to do.”

Stephens has returned to Clayton for the fall semester. She hopes to pursue graduate work in industrial psychology, and she plans to apply to graduate schools in the spring.

The daughter of Roscoe and Lisa Stephens of Knoxville, Tenn., Stephens is a 2010 graduate of South Doyle High School.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,197.