Westminster Student Interns Thrive Despite the COVID-19 Pandemic

Torie Thurston, above, Class of 2021, says she gained valuable leadership skills while interning at Walt Disney World before her experience was cut short because of COVID-19. Thurston says the memories she made during Spring Semester 2020 were the best of her life despite the pandemic.

By Alaina Allsbury, Class of 2021, Student Assistant for the Center for Career Development

No one knew we would encounter such strange times during our 2020 Spring Semester. Months before this international pandemic, 52 Westminster students committed to semester-long internships for the spring. Of those 52 students, 25 chose to intern with organizations off campus. Many stayed in central Missouri for their experience, while a couple of others ventured outside of Missouri. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances we are all enduring, some internships were canceled altogether, while others transitioned to working remotely online. While COVID-19 might have cut our semester short, altering classes and these internships, Westminster student interns still learned a lot and gained valuable experience in the abbreviated time they were able to spend with their organizations.

Sarah Ayers – Junior, Political Science and History Major

Sarah Ayers interned with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Jefferson City, MO. Ayers was interested in this internship opportunity because she plans to attend law school after completing her undergraduate degree. Working with the Governmental Affairs division allowed her to “gain an understanding for how politics can play out in person as well as the strategies behind the operations of organizations that assist with the creation of laws.” Due to COVID-19, she adapted to continuing her internship remotely from home but was grateful she was able to observe and work in the Missouri State Capitol before having to transition to an online environment.

Jordan Kahrhoff – Junior, Political Science and Sociology Major

Working with social workers and school counselors of Fulton Public Schools is how Jordan Kahrhoff spent his spring semester. “I have always known that I wanted to have a career that was meaningful to me,” was Kahrhoff’s response when asked why he was interested in working with Fulton Public Schools.  His time in college and a previous volunteer experience helped him discover his interest in the social work profession. This internship experience “only confirmed [my] desire to pursue graduate education in social work.” After graduation, Karhroff plans to obtain the mental health training that will allow him to work with children in the same way he observed while interning with the Fulton School District. During this pandemic, he has recognized the importance of proactive communication and has also been using his time to work on the research side of social work.

Raegan Huhn – Senior, Psychology Major

Also interning in Central Missouri, Raegan Huhn served as a shelter manager intern at the Rape and Abuse Crisis Service (RACS) in Jefferson City, MO. Huhn was interested in this organization because her goal is to become a rape and abuse counselor in the future, and she has observed how dedicated RACS is to helping women find safety and assistance when they need it most. Learning from her workplace and from the women she has worked with, Huhn learned about important aspects of this line of work. Sadly, COVID-19 has taken a toll on her experience. “Much of my internship was reliant on hands-on learning and discussions that COVID-19 has made impossible.” Although the pandemic has halted this opportunity to gain further experience in the field, Huhn was able to learn a lot about the profession and make connections that will help her in the future.

Torie Thurston – Junior, Sports Management and Advertising Major

Expanding her horizons beyond central Missouri, Torie Thurston had the chance to travel to Orlando, FL, for the beginning of the spring semester to participate in a marketing Internship with Walt Disney World. Thurston says she has always had an interest in interning with Disney because she has “always wanted to help make magic.” As one of the premier entertainment companies in the world, she wanted to learn more about their leadership as well as how they run different aspects of the company. While learning leadership techniques through her job at the Walt Disney World Resort, she also took classes and learned about the operations of different events throughout the park. Thurston said she gained leadership skills from her experience, but most importantly she gained many friendships from all over the country. The virus brought an early end to her internship experience due to the park closing, but Thurston stated, “I made so many memories — it was the best couple of months I have ever experienced.”

Jake Skaggs – Junior, Sport and Entertainment Management Major

Another student who decided to travel outside of Missouri is Jake Skaggs. Spending time in Atlanta, GA, with the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour allowed him to learn about digital marketing and tournament operations while working with the organization. He spent his weekdays working with the Digital Marketing Department. He traveled to different golf courses and assisted in tournament operations on the weekends. Skaggs was interested in the internship because it allowed him to take his passion for golf to the next level, as well as being able to live somewhere new and travel. Through this experience, he  “learned very valuable skills on how to run sports events as smoothly as possible and all of the preparation involved.” Due to several tournaments being canceled because of coronavirus, Skaggs returned to Missouri and worked online for the company.

Internships provide valuable experience and learning outside of the classroom. They give students the chance to develop their skills in a real-world environment and participate in their desired field, preparing them for life after college. The unusual circumstances of this semester have highlighted the importance of being flexible and learning to adapt in new situations, both in internships and life in general.

For more information on student internships, please contact Mandy Plybon, Assistant Director and Internship Coordinator for the Center for Career Development, at (573) 592-5382 or Mandy.Plybon@WCMO.edu.

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.