Shay Calhoun, a Fort Lewis College graduate, discovered the importance of split-second, day-to-day communications with clients during her internship with The Rochester Hotel.
Shelby Polkingham, a current FLC intern with The Rochester, appreciated the level of responsibility given to interns working for a small business.
Taylor Altman, an FLC intern with Velorution Cycles, saw how important it was for a small business to go the extra mile to build relationships with customers in a town filled with bicycle shops.
Just entering their professional careers, these three Skyhawks all say they learned the subtle intricacies of the professional world that are hard to convey in a textbook or through a computer screen by taking advantage of the internship program offered by the FLC Career Services department.
“An internship helps students find their natural skills and helps them identify the skills that need to develop. My focus is on the hospitality industry, but really, it’s a disservice to any student in any field if they haven’t served an internship,” said Lorraine Taylor, assistant professor of management at FLC.
Like a student teaching gig, Taylor said an internship gives students real experience that often washes away any unrealistic or romanticized notions they may have about their chosen profession.
“It’s just like education. It’s why you have a student teaching term – to see if it’s a good fit for you,” she said.
Calhoun, who served an internship with The Rochester last year and is now a full-time employee, said she’s gained an appreciation of the importance of relationships with customers and fellow workers that she never would have realized with only classroom experience.
“The small day-to-day interactions you have with guests are so important. You want to build a relationship where they trust you – so you show customers that you’re there not only as an employee, but you’re there to really help them get the most out of their visit,” Calhoun said.
Polkingham appreciated the level of responsibility she was given at The Rochester, a level of responsibility she said would have been unlikely interning for a hotel chain.
“We worked on a marketing plan for The Rochester. We worked on a press kit. That’s something you wouldn’t have been able to do working for a chain, where they have professionals on staff to do those things,” Polkingham said.
The experience is also a resumé enhancer, she said, noting she’s developed ties with tourism professionals with the Durango Area Office of Tourism and other tourism agencies that deal with the inn.
“I can say I’ve worked on a marketing plan for a real business, not just a class,” Polkingham said.
Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of her internship, she said, was the self-confidence she gained.
“It helps your problem-solving skills. You learn crisis management. When a guest has a problem, you realize: I’ve dealt with this before, I can resolve this issue, and you work to make a guest’s stay as positive and as safe as you can. You don’t need to call somebody for help,” she said.
Calhoun concurred. The internship has given her an appreciation of the importance of on-your-feet decision-making.
“It’s the little details that make a guest’s experience. It’s important to go beyond what they just expect. You think: What can I say to make a guest feel at home and comfortable. It’s those quick, in-the-moment decisions that make a guest’s experience optimal.”
The Career Services department’s website maintains a listing of available internships for FLC students to examine both in Durango and across Colorado.
Some internships are available nationally, even internationally. But FLC is especially eager to expand its listing of internship possibilities in Durango and La Plata County.
“It really helps students to know early on what jobs and internships are available when they’re deciding whether to stay in town or go home for the summer, Altman said.
To be eligible for the program, a student must be at least a junior with a 2.5 cumulative grade-point average.
Employers interested in tapping into the internship program can contact Marie Kehm, FLC career engagement specialist, at 247-7562 or via email at email@example.com.
Employers must provide a job description, agree to accept the internship as a credit class for the student, and evaluate the student’s performance after 150 hours.
“We try not to make it a red tape burden for employers,” Kehm said.
Altman’s experience in Durango’s hyper-competitive bicycle shop niche has helped inform his own plans of opening his own small business centered on the development of portable trail-building tools that can be taken into the backcountry on mountain bikes.
“I saw the balancing act a small-business owner has to do: overhead, customer service, marketing, and how it has to be done with relatively limited resources,” he said.
Altman returned to the Fort after a year off, attracted by its new entrepreneurship and small-business major, with plans to form a business around his idea for developing collapsible, portable tools for trail development.
Altman has developed a marketing plan for Velorution with particular attention to social media marketing. In addition, he’s started once-a-week bicycle rides with Velorution customers in an effort to build community and personal relationships with clients.
“Durango has so many bicycle shops. You need to figure a way to differentiate yourself,” he said of his idea for weekly bike rides.
After seeing the work required by a small-business owner, Altman said, he’s both more stoked and more intimidated by the burdens and opportunities that come along with owning and operating a small business.
“The freedom (of owning a small business) is enticing, but getting all the gears in motion seems daunting at the same time,” he said.