PEMBROKE — When an internship comes with a non-disclosure agreement, chances are it’s going to be a great learning experience.
“On my first week, I was thrown into some interesting situations,” said LaVianca Ledbetter, a student at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke who recently completed an internship at COMtech, a nearby business park that is home to 41 business and more than 1,100 jobs.
“It was a look behind the scenes.” Ledbetter said. “Often, I was the youngest person in the room.”
Besides gaining access to the inner workings of a nonprofit economic development organization, Ledbetter, a public relations major, and Courtney Chavis, a candidate for a master of Public Administration degree, were given the other great gift that an internship can provide — responsibility.
“We saw the need for a networking-after-hours event to build awareness of the park and to build relationships among businesses and business people across the county and region,” Chavis said. “It was a success with 130 people attending.”
To publicize the event, the interns engaged with every medium from word-of-mouth to social media tools. They believe the power of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and their blog on COMtech’s website were effective in targeting students and young professionals.
“I came to realize the importance of social media,” Chavis said. “When I graduated from UNCP in 2009, it was still new. By 2014, I realize it is essential. I feel COMtech’s social media presence expanded.”
Ryan Nance, COMtech’s executive director, said the event was an example of brainstorming with Chavis and Ledbetter, who brought “fresh, young ideas to the table.”
Nance said that COMtech needed an improved web presence and marketing support, so he wrote a grant to the Lumbee River Electric Membership Cooperative to fund the internships.
“The opportunity to have two interns meant we were able to do a lot of marketing and collaborating with the community,” Nance said. “I also wanted them to have a rich experience. They got an inside look at how a community-based organization like this works.”
Chavis, who said a doctoral program may be in her future, said the internship was a great learning experience.
“It was hands-on,” she said. “I had a chance to see what Ryan does as director of this organization. I could see myself running an organization like this at some point.”
Ledbetter, who will graduate next spring, got the internship with an elevator pitch.
“I want to have my own event planning business; I am in the entrepreneurship certificate program,” she said. “I finished second in the elevator contest last year, and Ryan was one of the judges.”
The internship benefitted both students and COMtech, but, even as classes have begun, they are not quite finished. The team is planning one more program, a college tour of COMtech set for Oct. 29.
“I want to make connections to the university and its students, so they will know what is here,” Nance said. “We have a lot to offer, students too.”
Ledbetter points out that COMtech Park has a restaurant-nightclub, a spa, personal training services, health clinics, services and job opportunities.
“We want to bridge the gap between the university and COMtech by showing students what they have to offer here,” she said. “Some of the businesses even give student discounts.”