When he stepped into his new role as senior marketing manager for Central Michigan University, Deverick Houston felt ready to take on the job.
While in college, Houston was able to prepare for this role through hands-on learning that included helping to develop his school’s dining committee.
Houston gained this experience through Chartwells Higher Ed’s Student Success internship program, which offers college students 10 different internship tracks—culinary, marketing and more.
“Being presented with the challenge of branding, growing and establishing the structure of the committee was such a rewarding experience,” he says. “The levels of collaboration and creativity [were] a glimpse into the work I do now.”
Finding a mentor
The Student Success program is available to over 300 Chartwells-affiliated campuses across the country. Along with giving student interns real-world learning opportunities connected to their major, Student Success also helps Chartwells leaders glean what their customer base wants in a dining program.
Each school oversees the application process and advertises the program, typically through social media and ads on campus.
“Once a student expresses interest in our opportunities, typically there’s a phone interview to get to know them and find out what their interests are, and then we hold an in-person interview, where they'll have an opportunity to tour our operations on campus,” says Student Success Director Nicole Wagner.
Once accepted, students are assigned a mentor, who works with them to find ways to connect what they’re learning in class to real-world experiences on campus and beyond.
Recent Student Success graduate Heidi Link says that her internship experience, which involved helping shape the social media strategy for new Chartwells accounts in the Northeast, prepared for her upcoming position as a marketing and sustainability manager at the University of Minnesota.
“I quickly began to notice that as I got more involved with the internship, I would gain more valuable hands-on experience and make more important connections,” she says. “Additionally, I became more engaged with my internship because I was given so much creative freedom to explore my passions.”
Mentors also help interns incorporate interests unrelated to their major or internship track. For example, marketing interns who have a passion for sustainability can work with their mentor to find ways to incorporate both marketing and sustainability into their program experience.
At the national level, interns can also connect with their peers through a series of biweekly webinars hosted by Chartwells leaders, where they learn about different parts of the organization and practice networking.
Getting to know their customer
While interns obtain skills and knowledge related to their major, Chartwells is also able to gain insight into what students are looking for on campus.
“Our interns are also our consumer base, too,” says Wagner. “So, we really value their ideas and recognize that it's important to connect with our interns on what they're looking for.”
Throughout their internship, students are invited to share ideas to improve their school’s dining experience. Chartwells Higher Ed recently held a contest for interns to come up with a campus retail concept. They were responsible for developing the entire concept, including marketing collateral. The winning brand, called Absurd Bird, was launched at many Chartwells Higher Ed accounts throughout the country.
And as many dining programs continue to struggle with staffing, Student Success has helped in this regard, with many interns taking full-time positions at Chartwells Higher Ed once they graduate, Wagner says.
The Student Success program is now over five years old, and Wagner and others continue to look for ways to grow the program and give students more opportunity to work with company leaders. Her advice to fellow operators looking to start their own internship program is to first establish a primary end goal and start small.
“Try focusing on one to two measurable initiatives at first,” she says. “And then, add a little bit to it year over year, don't try to accomplish everything all at once.”