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Auburn students, recent graduates learning on the job via impactful summer internships

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While summer is a time of leisure for many, a number of Auburn University students and recent graduates are spending their time getting crucial experience via summer internships.

The on-the-job training they are receiving through these opportunities is not only giving them quality experience they can build upon, but also could serve as springboards to long and successful careers. Auburn students are utilizing the summer months to pursue a variety of passions and serve several varying roles at businesses and offices around the country.

Three of those Tigers—Tyler Ward, Sydney McCurley and Angel Cagle—are hard at work in Washington, DC, Montana and Florida, respectively, this summer as they gain valuable experience and represent their university well.

Making a difference in DC

Ward’s innate desire for helping others and making a difference fueled his passions on the Plains while pursuing an education and shaping his experiences at Auburn.

From his time as a Student Government Association, or SGA, senator for the College of Liberal Arts, or serving as the SGA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion chair, Ward worked to expand representation for marginalized groups on campus during his time on the Plains. Ward—who graduated this spring with a degree in political science—also served as the executive vice president for the Black Student Union and assistant vice president of media operations for the SGA.

He has now embarked on a journey to Washington, DC, where he is interning for Representative Terri Sewell, who represents Alabama’s 7th District. Ward learned of the internship opportunity through Auburn journalism advisor Letitia Gulley-Smith.

“It was getting down to the wire of me not being sure what I was going to be doing after graduation, so it came at just the right time,” Ward said.

Sewell’s commitment to improving voting rights for all citizens struck a chord with Ward and is a big part of what made him want to work in his office.

“Civil rights and voting rights issues have been huge for me and very instrumental in why I wanted to do politics in general,” Ward said. “Rep. Sewell passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2021, and I thought that not only was a great way to commemorate a leader that I looked up so much to like John Lewis, but also expressed a lot of the same things I felt when it comes to voting rights. She’s big in my district, and it’s been great to see all the work she’s done and implement it toward educational resources.”

Ward is learning all facets of working in a major political office and is enjoying the chance to experience a wide array of duties and responsibilities.

“They really break us up into different phases in the office, and we will do things with speech writing, press releases, a little toward the administrative side of answering the phones and writing constituent letters and even a little toward the legislative side in researching policy , understanding how a bill gets to the floor and who can co-sponsor different things,” said Ward, who traveled to Washington, DC, in the past with a civil engagement class. “So, looking around to see what areas speak to us the most and then carrying that to the rest of our internship in specific areas. It’s just really, really, really cool.”

The experience Ward is getting in the nation’s capital this summer will be instrumental, he feels, in helping guide the next few years of his academic and professional life.

“It’s a great launching pad,” Ward said. “Even if I don’t want to specifically do this job and work on the Hill, it’ll give me opportunities to do other things too, which is cool to see. I think I want to go back to school at some point and get more education under my belt. This job is really helping me understand what kind of master’s or Ph.Ds I might want to pursue and is giving me a way to see up close the different jobs I’ve heard about to help me see if they’re something I would like or enjoy.”

Ward feels his Auburn experience working in student government and with other organizations, coupled with the instruction he received as a political science major, gave him a great foundation upon which to build.

“Liberal Arts and poly sci specifically really prepared me a lot, whether it’s from the educational stance and being able to experience things as a student, but also in knowing the fundamentals of bills, history and how things work,” Ward said. “Things like SGA and my extracurricular activities really gave me a good landscape of politics in general because learning how to reach across the aisle and gather constituent support are things we talked about a lot that we use every day up here [in D.C.]. So, it’s really cool to see the things we learned [at Auburn] and what we took away from our experiences really do make such a huge, huge impact.”

mountains of experience

McCurley, a senior from Dothan, Alabama, is majoring in hospitality management, on the event management track. Her internship from Ella at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana, runs from May 15 to Aug. 5.

McCurley learned about The Ranch at the annual hospitality career fair. It was the first time The Ranch recruited students at Auburn. McCurley said Associate Professor David Martin encouraged her to consider The Ranch for an internship since he was familiar with its reputation.

McCurley also had a little familiarity with The Ranch herself, which likely gave her a leg up in the interview process. The Ranch is a Relais & Chateaux property, meaning it is one of about 600 boutique hotel and fine-dining restaurants across the world known for luxury. McCurley’s internship last summer was at a Relais & Chateaux property.

“I felt that experience helped me get the job since I was already familiar with the luxury standards of its properties,” she said. “I interviewed twice for the position before receiving it. They appreciated my events background.”

That background also included serving as one of the hospitality management students charged with planning and executing this year’s Hospitality Gala, which was held in-person in April for the first time in three years.

In Montana, McCurley has two roles: PM server and event liaison.

At The Ranch, AM servers oversee breakfast and lunch, and PM servers handle dinner. As a PM server, McCurley works in the Granite Lodge serving multiple-course meals and interacting with guests. The other role has her working on events at the property, including private dinners and such.

The Granite Lodge is one of four places for guests to stay at The Ranch. It features nine one-of-a-kind rooms, each adorned in iconic western themes. Its dinner menu features a different culinary tour of Western Montana each night.

McCurley noted that The Ranch strives to offer personal experiences for its guests so servers like itself are deliberately matched with the same people during their stay. This way, McCurley will know guests’ preferences and can provide a more unique experience for them.

“We are expected to deliver high-quality service at all times, no matter our job,” McCurley said. “Events at The Ranch are executed according to the Forbes Five Star Standards.”

The Forbes Five Star is an award a hospitality business can achieve by delivering the 900 Forbes Standards in daily operation. It is renewed every year.

“A five-star rating makes this property very high class, even as a ranch. In fact, it was the first five-star ranch in the country,” McCurley noted.

McCurley is certain Auburn’s hospitality management program prepared her to be successful in any internship. She said the knowledge gained in class is easily understood when it can be applied in the field. An example is the Hospitality Gala.

“We really had to think about every aspect of that event, like the color scheme and how to make it work. I can use that knowledge when I am asked about the decor for events here,” she said. “I came prepared to learn and fulfill my roles at The Ranch.”

When McCurley returns to Auburn for the fall semester, it will be her last on the Plains. She’ll add The Ranch to her resume de ella in hopes of landing a job in event management following graduation in December.

“I am getting to work on events far more intimately than I have before,” she said. “An internship like this has been an opportunity to apply what I have learned in class, creating a holistic education of the hospitality industry.

“I believe my experiences and Auburn education will help me get the right job for me. I would like to be the one planning the events, or at least work my way up to that.”

into the woods

Cagle, a senior studying forestry in the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment, is spending her summer as an intern in Pace, Florida, with Resource Management Services, or RMS, a global timber investment firm headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama.

The company is involved in every aspect of timberland investing, including forest management, timber merchandising, environmental stewardship and wildlife management.

“I am performing duties like cruising timber and marking SMZs [streamside management zones],” said Cagle, a member of the college’s Forest, Environment and Wildlife Leadership Academy. “I am also shadowing RMS employees to learn more about their business and their day-to-day responsibilities.”

Cagle lined up the internship through Auburn’s Forestry Club, which provides students with opportunities for interviews and the chance to network with professionals in the field.

“This internship will build a foundation of real-world, hands-on experience that will enhance my education at Auburn,” Cagle said. “My classes have provided me with the knowledge I need for this internship. The field experience I gained at the college’s summer practicum has been especially invaluable.”

Cagle, a native of Haleyville, Alabama, will graduate in spring 2023 and plans to work in land management.

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