#CrazyForTillamook – My MBA Summer Internship
My three months immersed in cheese and spreads

I have long known that I wanted to work in the food industry, and recently I had the chance to explore that dream with a summer internship at Tillamook.

As a food connoisseur, and someone who’s passionate about the farm-to-fork revolution, this was a golden opportunity to turn my passion into a career.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time getting my hands dirty in the kitchen, but only recently have I had the opportunity to explore unique foods around the world and learn about our food system.

Lesley Watson at Tillamook

My background in paid marketing—leading media strategy for agriculture, restaurant, and CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) companies—gave me a closer look at various businesses within the food industry. This knowledge and experience only stoked my interest, and after setting my sights on a role in-house at a food brand, I decided that pursuing my MBA at UC Davis would be a great way to become well-rounded in business, and it would help me transition from working with food and beverage clients, to being in those roles myself.

Thus, my 2019 summer internship presented the perfect opportunity to get hands-on experience.


I’ve spent the last ten weeks working at Tillamook— a 100+ year-old, farmer-owned company best known for their cheddar cheese—in Portland, Oregon. Employees here are working every day to bring products to consumers that meet their “dairy done right” standard, and I’ve had an up-close and personal experience seeing what it takes to run a CPG business.

I learned that it’s a complex process to bring packaged foods to market at scale. I spent much of my time this summer working on new products and I was impressed at how strategy, food science, quality assurance, logistics, planning, operations, regulatory and marketing all come together to bring a product to market. It takes true cross-functional collaboration to find success, and that’s why Tillamook employs a “one team” approach. 

“Tillamook has incredibly high standards for their products and they look to employ the best people in the industry to deliver them.”

Watson cooking

In keeping true to their values of being good stewards, uncompromising on quality, working together, playing to win and caring about their products genuinely, Tillamook seeks to employ the best in the industry.

Beyond the knowledge and experience of the team, what stood out to me was just how much everyone within the company truly cares about the products they make. As a company producing consumables, this couldn’t be more important, and as a consumer I was reassured to see this dedication to quality firsthand. 

Wanting to make the most of my opportunity with a well-loved brand, I put my all into this summer internship. Here are some of my takeaways, and tips on how you can do the same:

Do your best work.

Whatever your key assignment or project is, plan from the start how you’ll deliver your best work. Tap into your resources to help with this—whether it’s your first-year professors at the GSM, library resources, textbooks, former mentors and colleagues, or even fellow classmates.

Go above and beyond.

Spend time getting to know the work that your team and manager do on a day-to-day basis. Ask weekly or daily what you can assist your manager with to make their jobs easier. Find areas for improvement within their processes that you may have suggestions or improvements on.

Instagram update

Ask for feedback.

As an intern, whether you’re new to your industry or new to this role, no one expects you to be an expert. So this gives you a great opportunity to be completely open to feedback on your work, presentation skills, communication, and more, all within an environment that’s encouraging of development.

Network within the company.

Tell your manager where your interests lie, both within and beyond your function or role, and ask who they know within the company who may be interesting for you to speak with. Or use LinkedIn to find out where different people within the company have worked in the past that interest you. Then, go out and set up brief coffee chats to discuss career paths and ask for advice.

Take advantage of company perks.

Does your summer company offer development resources?  Tillamook provided LinkedIn Learning access that I used this summer to take some brief video courses on key skills or knowledge areas I wanted to expand on. Be sure to ask about resources during your first week.

Lean into the company culture.

Internship Group Photo Breakfast

Really give yourself a chance to enjoy working at the company you’ve chosen. If they host events like summer barbecues, a speaker series, or have committees you can join, go for it.  These are great ways to experience the culture of a company, but they’re also great networking opportunities. At our Tillamook Summer BBQ event, I ended up sitting next to Patrick Criteser, President and CEO of Tillamook. I enjoyed chatting with him and other colleagues, and I learned a few tips and tricks to utilize throughout my internship.

Lastly, be sure to enjoy your free time.

Whether you’re in a new city, or close to home, enjoy the great summer weather and take advantage of your homework-free weekends. Your fellow interns may also be looking to explore and could end up becoming great friends. My weekends in Portland included camping, hiking trails full of waterfalls, river floats, white-water rafting, cider-tastings, and bike rides around the city. It was a non-stop summer, but it was so much fun exploring a new city. I urge you to take advantage of your own incredible internship opportunity much like I did.