Leslie Lima ’21 knows the value of hard work, and starting early. In fact, her Warriors at Work internship was financially supported by the Merrimack Non-Profit Internship Program thanks to The Yawkey Foundation grant.
As an intern and developing professional since her high school years, she’s currently finishing her bachelor’s in civil engineering at Merrimack. And with a post-grad future just ahead, Leslie has already secured a full-time offer with Woodard & Curran! She joins us today to discuss her wide array of experiences, finding her fit and what Merrimack organizations shaped her college journey.
Hi Leslie! First off, congratulations on your full-time offer from Woodard & Curran! Transitioning from an intern to a full employee—that’s always impressive. How long have you been working in this role, and what are you doing? Will your full-time responsibilities be different from your internship?
Hi Dan! Back in February 2019, I went out to grab coffee at Perfecto’s in North Andover with Renee Lanza—I never imagined that she would become my manager that summer. Later on, in June, I started as an engineering intern at Woodard & Curran under the Water Practice in the Andover office. Thus far, I’ve completed two full summer internships and have stayed on board through the semesters in-between.
The level of work in my internship was very reflective of what work as a full-time employee will be like. My transition will continue to involve exercising my creativity and problem solving skills, by addressing water and environmental issues in municipal and industrial areas.
I’m glad to hear you’ll be able to fully use your creativity! You certainly have a wide array of experience. From CAD drafting to interior design, social media to event planning—you’ve done it all, in terms of internships. What led you to so many different experiences? What did you most love about these internships, and did they help you explore the field?
Growing up, my parents would always say: “You won’t know if you like it unless you try it.” Although they were referring to food most of the time, I applied this same idea to my career exploration! Interning was the perfect way to sample careers, and to get a taste of what that path would be like. My career advisor, Laura Thibodeau, really emphasized that knowing what you don’t like is equally as important as knowing what you do.
My first internships were very office-heavy. Internships outside of my discipline, like the event planner role for Warriors At Work, or the social media work for Get Hired Up, taught me that I enjoyed both field and office work, interacting with clients, and having a dynamic workflow. I also learned transferable skills that would help me add value to field-related experiences. I am currently seeing my social media skills be useful for a 6k event I’m helping promote as part of the New England Water Works Association (NEWWA) Water For People Committee; NEWWA is a membership organization for those working or interested in the drinking water profession.
And you started interning in high school, right? Starting so young, how did you get your foot in the door? What would you say was most crucial to those first steps of your career journey?
I truly attribute getting my foot in the door back in high school to my determination. Since I went to a technical school, it was typical for students to have an internship their senior year within their trade. In my CAD Drafting program, very few students had internships. I did not want to spend senior year in class everyday if I could go out and explore career paths. I had no preference on what my first internship would be, I just wanted to be given an opportunity to exhibit my skills.
Coming into college, I knew it was a different ballgame. I now had a bigger network that I needed to tap into, and with the assistance of Laura, I was able to take advantage of that opportunity. From the start of my freshman year, she walked me through polishing my resume, and honing my interview and networking skills. Every semester we worked on new things, so that by the time I had the opportunity to apply and interview for my internship at Woodard & Curran, I was ready to find my forever job.
I’m glad you’ve worked with Laura so much! You’re part of the O’Brien Center family after all, having served as a communications and event-planning intern, as well as a “Get Hired Up” ambassador. Looking back on these experiences, how did they help you grow, both personally and professionally?
The O’Brien Center family holds a special place in my heart. During my time with them, they helped me highlight my strengths and identify my weaknesses so I could work on bettering myself. Sharing time with them also helped put my name out there, for things that I would have missed out on otherwise. Maybe my experience did not directly relate to civil engineering, but they made me a better person, student and co-worker.
It’s all about personal development, sometimes! You’ve also been involved with the Honors Program as a peer mentor—have you gotten a lot out of Honors? What role has it played in your development as a leader on and off-campus?
When I was an Honors peer mentor, my personal goal was to help first-year students tap into their career goals. For me, starting internships so early made such a big difference, and helped me get the most of my college experience. I wanted the same for my mentees! I’m looking forward to using these skills at Woodard & Curran in the mentor and mentee program with interns and new hires. The Honors program has really shown me the value that a mentor can have.
The new hires at Woodard & Curran will be lucky to have you. Finally—do you have any advice to share with fellow students, or any shoutouts to make?
My advice for students: don’t be scared to go out on a limb. Apply for a job that’s not your dream job. Why? An experience, good or bad, will always have value; you will walk away knowing something you didn’t before, and that will prepare you for your dream job in the future. Go to the career fair, interview with companies. You’ll get better at interviews—you’ll learn how to sell your skills, what you bring to the table and explore who you are as an employee. Lastly, network. Networking is the new recommendation letter. You are more memorable when you meet people and share your experience and interest, rather than being a piece of paper in a stack of other applications.
I wish I could name everyone who’s helped me get this far! First and foremost, my friends and family—without them, I might not have even had the opportunity to go to college. Additionally, I’d like to thank every single person who ever took a chance and hired me, anyone who ever interviewed or networked with me, and lastly, thank you to the faculty and staff at Merrimack College for an experience that went beyond my expectations and prepared me for the future.
Amazing advice! Thank you for your thoughtful answers, Leslie, and good luck with the rest of the semester!
Are you ready to secure an internship or employment for the fall and beyond? The O’Brien Center for Career Development is here to help you! Visit Handshake today to search for open opportunities, meet with your career advisor, and more.