Co-op/Intern Spotlight: Nicholas Van Vliet
Nicholas Van Vliet is a senior majoring in Global Security & Intelligence Studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University - Prescott Campus. His most recent internship is with The Boeing Company.
Discuss how you obtained all your previous and current internships along with the responsibilities in each.
My internship experiences were the culmination of what I would describe as a snowball effect. My first internship I got indirectly through a great program called TFAS or The Fund for American Studies. TFAS’s international relations program acted as an intermediary between me and various institutions in the Washington D.C. area where they worked with me to not only place me at one of these institutions (through their network of connections) but also provide housing, more networking opportunities, and even college courses through George Mason University. Through TFAS I landed at a small defense contractor called Praescient Analytics as a Business Development Specialist. At first I was disappointed that I wasn’t in a more intelligence or security related position but while at Praescient I quickly gained an appreciation for the challenge of being in a different field and finding how it related to my degree program in various ways. Praescient allowed me to get exposed to a whole new field I never explored while at Embry-Riddle, the world of defense contracting and business. I was responsible for researching and obtaining new business opportunities which matched our company’s areas of operation/expertise and presenting these opportunities to executive leadership for their approval to pursue the proposal process. I was also involved in existing contract proposals doing writing reviews and data collection.
Through Praescient I was able to snowball into two other opportunities, my first came from the training I received at the company in various intelligence programs like ArcGIS and i2 Analyst Notebook. I had an idea from seeing their capabilities which would eventually blossom into my thesis and URI (Undergraduate Research Institute) project during the next fall and spring semester. That URI project/thesis for the College of Business, Security, and Intelligence allowed me and my research partner to work with Praescient and pursue the question of how COVID-19 affected conflict around the world through case examples.
The other opportunity was that the experience gained at Praescient allowed me to secure another internship in the fall remotely with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. At the Naval Lab I was a researcher developing plotting algorithms in Python and writing reports on a research topic of my choosing. I decided to research human trafficking and imported years of data from the POLARIS Project to visualize and analyze before writing reports.
My fourth internship/experience and where I am currently is at Boeing as an Industrial Security Specialist. I found out about this position through someone in my network sending me the internship application after talking to him about looking for a final internship opportunity for the summer before I graduate. Boeing has been the crowning achievement of all my past experiences where I can pull it all together and put it to use in the workplace. At Boeing I do a variety of things both unclassified and classified supporting our various programs in the Puget Sound area of Washington.
Have your future aspirations changed during the experiences?
When I first came to the college in 2019 I was dead-set for at least the first year on joining some three-letter agency and doing what I thought would be “fun, cool, secret” government stuff. As I matured and began to go through my internships I quickly realized a few things. I realized that with any job field or position there is almost always going to be some form of romanticism going on because you simply don’t understand the reality of what people do on a day to day in those jobs until you either talk to someone meaningfully about their position or you try it out for yourself. Through TFAS I was able to talk to many people from the three-letters and find out it really isn’t what I thought it was. At the same time, I was opened up to the field of the private sector and defense contracting. Now my future aspirations are aligned with the private sector and my aspirations within the private sector are more lose to adjust for any romanticism. I strive to experience new things and talk to people so I can adjust and know the reality of what I aspire for. That is why I have so many internships/experiences so I can try new things and even within those positions I do everything I can to see what others do so I can know the reality and not assume anything.
What has been your greatest success so far at one of your experiences?
My greatest success so far has to be my research project/thesis through the URI program. Even though I wasn’t directly employed by any company and was more partnered with my prior internship company, what I learned and experienced was monumental to my development as both a person and a professional. The process of completing that project over the course of fall and spring was challenging, many hours spent researching, analyzing, reading, and writing what culminated in a 60+ page paper and multiple presentations. Each day working with Dr.Groh and my research partner taught me new things about myself as a leader, a person, and a professional and allowed me to identify parts of myself that I needed to work on to succeed and grow. I would not be where I am today or nearly as successful in my current position if it was not for the lessons I learned during that project.
How has your education and involvement on campus helped you be successful?
The GSIS program prepared me especially for my work at Boeing, on a daily basis we are referencing the NISPOM and other government policy documents for how we need to operate as a company to protect classified information and our facilities. It is super exciting to be at work and recognize what my managers or co-workers are talking about because we were taught things like physical security and risk management. These academic lessons but also the life lessons have helped me be really successful. Being able to simply communicate effectively, speak in front of groups, write in a concise manner, and so many other things you pick up from being active in class have allowed me to set myself apart and excel in the professional world.
What advice do you have for other students interested in pursuing an internship?
I would suggest that when interested in pursuing an internship, be creative and be flexible are two very important things. People have no idea how many opportunities there are if you look in the right place. TFAS was something that I was able to dig up after an hour or so of Googling and that set me up for where I am today. Even my current position was sent to me by someone I networked with so don’t forget that those LinkedIn connections aren’t just there to look pretty, use them. Your classmates might be more helpful than you think, I have at least four friends doing the TFAS program this year that I wrote recommendation letters for and originally told them about the program because of how much it did for me, talk to your classmates and professors as well.
Flexibility in what you want to do is also extremely important, you don’t need to land your dream job as an internship, I started out doing business work as a security student and slowly worked my way into a relevant position at a great company. The experience is what matters and you will learn things that you can take to any job whether its professional knowledge or general experience that you simply won’t learn in the classroom. Experience builds on top of one another and can produce this snowball like effect opening doors and future opportunities.