In the 2015 movie, The Intern, Robert De Niro plays a retired executive who takes advantage of a senior (as in senior citizen) intern program and ends up assisting—in life and work—a frenzied, e-commerce company CEO played by Anne Hathaway. Although the two get off to a rocky start—with De Niro’s character being asked to play driver and fetch coffee rather than given more substantial responsibilities—ultimately, in true Hollywood fashion, lessons are learned and lives are changed. The end.
In the real world, of course, it’s unlikely that Robert De Niro will show up for an intern interview and end up (spoiler alert) saving your marriage and your company. But both you and your intern could very well learn valuable lessons if you design your program accordingly. When done right, an internship is a mutually beneficial arrangement, through which interns practice being on the job in a hospitality role and employers benefit from their enthusiasm and novel ideas.
Melissa Jurcan, director of sales, marketing and communications at Seafair, has crafted a stellar internship program for students interested in meeting and event planning. She’s convinced that internships are a great payoff for the company and cites interns’ “different outlooks and fresh sets of eyes” as key qualities for keeping Seafair, which was founded in 1950, relevant for new generations. She notes that interns bring “a great youthful energy to the office that really propels the full-time staff,” and takes pride in growing the next generation in the industry.
Seafair, Seattle’s annual eight-week summer celebration, holds on average 75 events each year, with a combined attendance of more than 2 million people. The small staff of 10 full-time employees relies heavily on the 15 full-time interns they hire for a three-month period every year. The interns receive a well-rounded educational experience, focusing on five or six specific areas of event planning, such as sales and marketing. “Every year, they have amazing ideas that we put into play; they really astound us,” says Jurcan.
To design a strong internship program that benefits both the interns and the company, Jurcan explains that you must offer a diverse experience that goes far beyond just copying and filing. “Give them meaty projects with an opportunity to own something. Back them and give them support, but make sure they have a hands-on experience,” she says. “An internship should be a sampling of what it would be like to actually work in this industry.”
When recruiting for the program, Jurcan relies on her connections with local universities and colleges. She posts on their job and internship boards and has built relationships within specific university departments, including communications and marketing. Often, professors who know her will also play a role in recruiting for the program. Another source for new interns is to stay in contact with former interns, explains Jurcan. They can recommend peers who might be a good fit for your company or organization.
And when choosing interns, Jurcan advises companies to look for students with a great work ethic who want to learn and who are excited and motivated to tackle projects. She notes that it’s less about what they know when they come in than about “their attitude and their ability to come in and be a sponge.” She adds that it takes a special kind of person to work in the meetings and events industry. The work often extends into nights and weekends, and interns have to be able to channel both their office mode and what she calls their “go-mode” for events.
MENTORING THE NEXT GENERATION
Jurcan says she stays in touch with interns because she’s committed to helping connect them to the industry and find jobs after graduation. She believes that a key facet of any internship program is to provide students with career direction, whether they want to stay in meetings and events or transition into another area of hospitality business management.
TO PAY OR NOT TO PAY
The Seafair internship offers a small stipend, which is typical for the events industry. Some colleges and universities require that internships be paid, including Washington State University’s hospitality management program. The director of the program, Nancy Swanger, Ph.D., believes that internships that pay often provide a better-quality experience for students and compel the students to place more value on their own contributions to the organization.
Meetings of the Minds
The best hospitality programs in the Pacific Northwest intertwine themselves with the industry—and vice versa.
Students who take Professor Bill Maynard’s 400-level class “Leading and Living” describe it as “life changing.” The course teaches understanding of self and others to build relationships. It’s one of the most popular electives in the hospitality business management program at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman, Washington.
It’s fitting that a class on relationships is a capstone to prepare graduates for an industry built on connecting with people. In fact, a measure of the best hospitality programs is how symbiotically they’re connected to the industry and their communities. For students, this kind of connection means plenty of hands-on learning opportunities. For the industry, it means a supply of top talent.
WSU does this particularly well. The university’s hospitality program is the third-oldest in the country, and it is consistently ranked among the top hospitality programs in the nation. Nancy Swanger, PhD., director of the program, says, “We build a strong connection with the industry with our active advisory board, made up of industry professionals who are also involved in a curriculum survey every few years.” Additionally, industry leaders are frequent speakers in many of the classes. These connections feed into internship opportunities for students majoring in hospitality, who are required to have 1,000 hours of paid industry experience in order to graduate .
Hands-on experiences extend to the classroom as well. Students can take a beverage management class (yes, there are tastings) or a culinary elective, which immerses them in the operations of a catering program and is taught by an executive chef. All of these courses build toward a Bachelor of Arts in Hospitality Business Management, which Swanger emphasizes is a management degree housed in an accredited college of business. Beyond core liberal arts, half of the curriculum is in hospitality, but the other half is in marketing, finance and information systems.
Since its beginnings in 1932, the program has expanded to satellite campuses, including WSU Vancouver, the Tri- Cities, Everett, Switzerland, and online through the Global Campus. Currently, there are approximately 450 students working toward certified majors. Graduates are prepared to enter a corporate or hospitality-focused setting—some even launch their own businesses. Past graduates include Kate Kurkjian (class of ’03), who is now the director of special events at Visit Seattle, and Mallory Knapp (class of ‘12), an event planner at Wonderstruck, a wedding planning agency based in Seattle.
Inside OSU’s New Program
While WSU has the oldest program in the region, Todd Montgomery, executive in residence and lecturer at Oregon State University–Cascades (OSU–Cascades), has had the unique opportunity to start the newest program in the region: a bachelor’s in Hospitality Management at the university’s Bend campus. Like the WSU program, the OSU–Cascades program is intricately linked to the local industry, which had such a strong need for interns and talent, it raised $350,000 of seed money to start the program. It’s the first of its kind in Oregon, and Montgomery explains that it will help the state retain hospitality talent and attract talent from other parts of the country, as well.
A unique aspect of the OSU– Cascades program is its focus on ecotourism and sustainability. It’s the only bachelor’s program in hospitality management in the country with that emphasis, and Montgomery says that, there are so many nature-based tourism options in Bend, the city itself serves as an “ecotourism laboratory.” Besides the sustainability emphasis, students will also receive a minor in business and strong curriculum around technology. “These focuses will prepare students, not just for what they need now, but for what they will need in the future as the industry evolves,” Montgomery explains. The program gives students opportunities to learn meeting and event planning with various electives and offers broad real-life experiences.
In a field guided by networks of relationships, academic programs in hospitality management need to be closely tied to the industry and the community. And those in the industry looking for interns and top talent need to be linked to colleges and universities. At that intersection, some of the best ideas and the best people in hospitality will continue to converge.