Student Success Stories

Pivoting During the Pandemic: Creating an Opportunity for Professional and Personal Growth

Jamie at the main entrance of The Learning Center, March 2021. (Photo by Emily Duval)

Jamie McKinney ‘21 did not let the pandemic stand in the way of her goals. After her initial internship site had to rescind her opportunity, the Business major with the goal of a career in Human Resources, set out to find a person-focused environment where she could refine her communication, organizational, and time management skills. Through perseverance and creativity, she found not one, but two internship opportunities. And, she did not have to travel far to gain the experience she sought, as both internships were done on the VWU campus.

She completed internships with the Virginia Wesleyan University Learning Center in Clarke Hall and with Professor Frank Futyma. With the Learning Center, she served as a member of the student support team, assisting with projects to help students and creating new programs to engage students in Learning Center programming. In Professor Futyma’s Excel class, she served as a teaching assistant, assisting with lesson preparation and in class instruction.

Her dedication and creativity in very challenging times is a sense of personal pride.

“I’m pretty proud that I created my own opportunity during those times. I initiated the conversations about the internships and am grateful for the opportunities.”

Jamie parlayed the internship experiences into her first post-graduate position in her field of choice as a Payroll Administrator with MAP Communications.

“Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. That’s what college is all about; finding what you can do. You won’t ever know what you are capable of until you do it.”

An Interview with Jamie McKinney

How did your experience help focus your academic and career path?
These experiences helped me know what I wanted to do when I graduated and what my skills were. Working with the Learning Center team gave me the confidence I needed to move forward with my career. I realized that I have the organization skills to complete assigned tasks efficiently and timely. I obtained a position in the payroll department at MAP Communications. This position is in a very fast pace environment requiring me to multitask. Before the internship experience, I found myself getting frazzled and frustrated when given an overwhelming amount of work. I learned during the internship, and by participating in the VWU Business Conference, how to prioritize and complete what is needed in a timely manner. Also, the knowledge I gained as a teaching assistant in the Exel class with Professor Futyma is information that I use often in the workplace.

What were the most important takeaways from your experience?
I learned how to do work independently. I am the sort of person that wants to make sure that it is done right the first time. Once I completed a step, I went and made sure that it was right and I wasn’t messing up. I learned that you need to do the entire project and then present what you have done. I received feedback and if anything needed to be altered, then I would then go back and correct it. It’s completely different from how I did my school work. Adapting to how you do things in school to how you do it in an office setting was a challenge, but I learned and got through it.

What did you find most surprising about your experience?
I honestly didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did. When I declared my major and opted for the internship synthesis, I honestly thought that doing an internship would just give me more experience and something that will look good on my resume. I thought I’d make copies, answer phone calls, sit at a desk, and do work that other employees did not want to do. I would drag myself to my internship and watch the clock go by. Instead I really enjoyed my time at The Learning Center. I enjoyed the people I worked with. I assisted with projects and even proposed my own. I was treated like one of the team. With Professor Futyma I was surprised that I was able to help/teach the students as well as I did. I’m a terrible storyteller because it takes me several different paths to get to the main point of the story. However, in assisting Professor Futyma and helping the students understand something, I was clear and to the point and they got it. I had everyone following along and paying attention to what we were learning for that class. It was a lot of fun!

What is one of your most memorable moments?
My most memorable moment would have to be the project I took on myself at The Learning Center. Due to Covid the students weren’t allowed to do a lot of things that we enjoyed pre-covid. We mainly stayed in our rooms, classes were online, students mainly went to the cafe and back to their rooms. Therefore, there were not a lot of students taking advantage of our Learning Center. I came up with the idea of having different themes each week that would be fun for the students. At the end of the semester, all students who attended tutoring would be eligible for a drawing to win VWU apparel. I took a Google Poll and shared it on my social media and shared ideas of different events that would be fun. I surprisingly had a lot of students take part in the poll and I received some very good feedback on what students wanted. The four events that won were: Hot Chocolate Day, Rubber Chicken Day, Lego Day, and Frisbee Day. We had an event every week and if you went to The Learning Center for a tutoring appointment you received an item for that day. I made flyers, I did budgets for the events, I got in front of The Learning Center staff and presented my ideas. What makes this so memorable to me is that it was my project. I took all my skills that I learned from all my classes at VWU and put them into a real life situation. It will be one moment I will never forget.

What is the biggest thing you learned about yourself?
I learned that I work better in a working environment than a school environment. I struggled grasping things in class, no matter how hard I studied I wouldn’t do well on exams and it did not reflect the amount of effort that I put into all of my work. I was always frustrated. Once I started my internship everything felt like it came naturally. I was understanding what was expected of me and what they needed from me. Also, I learned throughout college that I can overcome anything that I put my mind to. A lot of people doubted that I would make it through college. I have even been told that I have been underestimated. Hearing the negativity made me push even harder and helped me reach my goals and to where I am now.

Would you do this experience again? Why or why not? Would you do anything differently?
I 100% would. I was so grateful that I was able to do my internship at The Learning Center. I was comfortable going to work and that there was not too much pressure on me. I really believe that if I did it at a place that I didn’t know and was new to me I would have been overwhelmed and wouldn’t be able to show my true work ethic. It really did prepare me for learning how to transition from being a student to being a full time employee. I wouldn’t want it at any other place or have it any other way.

What advice would you give to other students who are considering an internship?
I would tell other students to go for anything you think will make a more positive impact than not doing it! It may seem scary at first but you eventually have to grow up. Starting at school will help you ease into it so it doesn't hit you like a ton of bricks. My internship helped me transition into a career opportunity.

To learn more about internship opportunities, visit the Career Development Program, in The Lighthouse: Center for Exploration & Discovery.