When an internship comes with a non-disclosure agreement, chances are it’s going to be a great learning experience.
Interns Courtney Chavis, left, and LaVianca Ledbetter with COMtech Executive Director Ryan Nance
“On my first week, I was thrown into some interesting situations,” said LaVianca Ledbetter of her 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.”
COMtech Executive Director Ryan Nance with interns LaVinca Ledbetter, center, and Courtney Chavis.
Besides gaining access to the inner workings of a non-profit economic development organization, Ledbetter, a public relations major at UNC Pembroke, 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.”
“We ran around like chickens without heads before the event,” Ledbetter added. “It worked, and we were really pleased with what we did.”
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 particularly 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 networking 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 (LREMC) 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.
“I would like to thank Ryan for seeing potential in me, and LREMC for funding this internship,” she said.
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 (UNCP’s) entrepreneurship certificate program,” she said. “I finished second in the elevator contest last year, and Ryan was one of the judges.”
Like Chavis, Ledbetter believes it was a productive summer. “I’m a big advocate of networking, and I got to network with a lot of important people,” she said. “Looking behind the scenes at COMtech will be helpful for me when I open my own business.”
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 on October 29. Nance would continue building bridges to UNCP, which constructed a Regional Center and biotechnology labs in the park. And who better for this job than two UNCP student-interns?
“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."
Indeed, 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. Some of the businesses even give student discounts.”
COMtech Park is home to a variety of businesses, as well as healthcare clinics and light industry. To learn more about the park and check out the website, blog and links to social media that the interns worked on, go to comtechcenter.org/. UNCP and Robeson Community College have offices and classrooms there as business partners.