Story by Brenna Cashen
Making coffee runs and filing papers don’t have to define your summer. Internships are a great way to gain experience and JMU students prove they don’t have to be boring. Adam Ballou, a 2015 alumnus who majored in international affairs and Spanish, received security clearance just 24 hours before leaving the country for his three-month internship with The United States State Department in Madrid, Spain.
At the State Department, Ballou worked in the Bureau of Consular Affairs in the visas department. “Everyone needs a Visa so I got to see V.I.P.s walk through the door … from famous singers to famous athletes,” Ballou says. “For the first time in my life, I was like, ‘I am actually doing something. This is important.’”
One morning Ballou was called up to the fifth floor to the Ambassadors’ offices. The head of the Economics Department, Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda, wanted to talk to him. Sepulveda wanted to know what Ballou’s perception was of the Spanish youth’s mindset about the economic crisis in Spain. He asked if Ballou had met any Spanish students who were taking the responsibility to help themselves.
Ballou told Sepulveda and the Economics Department about his Spanish roommate who had started his own wind turbine company. The department brought Ballou’s roommate in to discuss ways the State Department could support him. “It was cool to be a part of something, like a young Spanish kid that had no connections … now he got to go with the U.S. government. Now they’re doing business,” he says.
The internship shaped his life, future and career path. Ballou is applying to the foreign services and hopes to be a diplomat. Thanks to his internship, he now has the connections and experience to do so.
“I was like, ‘Who am I?’ I was there with kids from Princeton and Dartmouth and Georgetown … and I’m this kid from JMU,” Ballou says. “But I went out there and just made the most of it.”
Emily Winter, a senior media arts and design and communication studies double major, traveled to a different country for her summer internship as well. Winter spent her days at Wilton’s Music Hall in London developing and contacting lists for specific events at the theatre. Ping pong tournaments were held in the theatre and Winter emailed invites to Ping pong enthusiast groups in the area. She was responsible for running a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo and the theatre’s social media.
One of the best parts of the internship for Winter was watching the building transform. As the world’s oldest surviving Grand Music Hall, construction is being done in hopes of restoring the building. “It was interesting to see the process of how they are taking this really terrible building that’s so beautiful, and how they are making it safe, but keeping that charm,” Winter says.
Interning abroad gave her not only a different work opportunity, but also showed her a different work culture. “Something that surprised me about having an internship in London is that the work culture is just very, very laid back,” she says. “I like to have tasks, be very organized, like do this, then this, then this, but also the way that their culture was like ‘uh yeah you can work on this and then maybe do this’.” If Visas weren’t so expensive — costing upward of $1,000 with application fees and difficult to get — Winter says she would work in London again in a heartbeat. While interning abroad offers a unique experience, students can find engaging and exciting internships right here in Virginia. Senior hospitality major Devan Darnell interned at Busch Gardens Williamsburg as a facilities supervisor in the Photoshop area for two of the amusement park’s rides.
Along with making sure the cameras on her rides were running smoothly, she was responsible for training employees, filling out evaluations and managing day-to-day activity with her rides and staff. “It’s not the same every day which is kinda why I like it … that very not-so-ordinary desk job,” Darnell says. This experience came at a convenient time in Darnell’s education. “I had actually just switched majors to hospitality before doing that program and it was a great confirmation,” Darnell says. “I definitely switched to the right major. I didn’t make the worst decision of my life.”
While Darnell isn’t sure she wants to work with theme parks in the future, she learned while at Busch Gardens she’s interested in pursuing tourism and making people smile. This internship gave her practical supervisory experience she can use in anything she pursues in the future. Darnell says she now has the ability to do “the whole evaluation thing … and how to have those difficult conversations with your team members to be like, ‘You’re doing your job wrong or you’re at risk of being fired.’” Whether you want to intern abroad or intern down the road, internships are beneficial for students’ education and job search. “Employers want [students] to have experience … it helps set them apart,” says Laura Hickerson, the Internship Liaison at Career and Academic Planning. “It is not uncommon for [students] to get a job offer after.”
There are opportunities for JMU students to put their education and experience to work through internships all around the world. If students need guidance in their internship search, Career and Academic Planning can help them every step of the way.