TEM major turned internship into a full-time job when she most needed it

September 24, 2019

By Greg Sullivan

CEHD senior Erika Young had a full-time job already and had recently had a son, Cameron, when she began looking for her internship.

The 30-year-old tourism and events management (TEM) major had been working full time for a retail company she’d been with for eight years, balancing that with school and now being a mom.

As Young looked at options to fulfill the internship requirement for her degree, she was understandably struggling between finding an internship that matched her major and career plans versus finding something that was easier to fit in her busy life.

The company she was with at the time had urged her to intern at its regional headquarters, which seemed to be the convenient choice.

But while she was deliberating on what made the most sense for her, Young’s situation changed abruptly last February.

Young’s department at work was shut down, and she was given the option to keep what was a decent-paying, full-time job, but it would require making a move across the country to Seattle.

“As soon as that happened, I had a decision to make,” said Young, a Fairfax, Virginia native. “It was scary for someone who’s 30 who has someone depending on them to help put food on the table. But I was like, ‘I’m going to take my severance pay.’ They gave me some money from that, and I had some savings, and I decided to invest it in my career.”

Financially, it was something of a risk. A degree would help her long-term prospects, but another part of that equation was that Young had just one year from when she was let go from her job to figure out what to do long term about insurance and benefits. Cameron, now one year old, was on her health insurance plan.

“But I wasn’t going to relocate across the country for a job I wasn’t going to school for,” Young said. “I was still at Mason. I wasn’t going to pass up my whole life for something that’s not what I really want.”

Early in her internship search, Young focused on the events side of her TEM major since she’d had a good experience doing a work practicum at Mason with the Washington Redskins’ marketing team. But the fieldwork experience coordinator for Mason’s TEM program, Instructor Tina Jones, urged Young to open up her search to look at tourism, as well, to push beyond her comfort zone and see what other options were there.

Young said Jones’s advice was something she hadn’t considered but that it proved extremely helpful.

Young wound up accepting an unpaid internship with Destination DC, an organization that functions as the convention and visitor bureau that markets Washington, DC to the world as a global convention, tourism, and special events destination.

The first day of the internship, Young said she fell in love with the organization and knew right away that, while there were no guarantees, she wanted and needed it to turn into a full-time job, if that were possible.

“You don’t know you’re getting a job afterwards,” Young said. “You really just have to believe that this is your opportunity to show your work ethic and prove that they need you, that you know how to be on time, that you’re here every day ready to go, and to show that you can get assignments done on time and do what needs to be done. That you guys can’t afford to lose me as a worker.”

Working five days a week there over this summer, primarily on the tourism side of Destination DC, Young did tasks like put together gift bags for DC visitors, put together visitor itineraries, place orders, and manage databases.

Meanwhile, she also had some big opportunities that thrust her more into the spotlight where she could prove herself. When her department went to California for a major conference, she put together the itinerary, and she made sure each person’s flight information was correct and that everyone on the team stayed on schedule for their combined 170 different appointments over the course of a few hectic days. She also managed the notes and records from all those many appointments.

Young also put together an international basketball camp during the internship, geared toward high school students from China, that will begin next summer, which required handling several logistical challenges.

The results from her efforts caught her coworkers’ attention, and the outcome of that was life changing. “I worked really, really hard and they ended up creating a position for me so I wouldn’t leave,” Young said. “They were creating my job during my internship, making sure my benefits and everything would fall into place so I’d be ready to go as soon as I graduated.”

In the meantime, Destination DC has now welcomed her permanently on the team as a paid tourism, sports, and visitors services specialist. She’s working three days a week now as she’s stacked her schedule to take four courses this semester at Mason on the other two days. That means she can earn some money now to help with the family bills, and in January, once she’s done with classes, she’ll be able to start working there full time in a benefits-eligible role.

Young said while it wasn’t easy for everything to fall in place like it did, she’s proud that it happened, and there’s also some relief. “I put myself in a position where I don’t have to finish school and say, now what?” she said. “Now, I have a plan for me and my family.”

“Every day for two months, I treated it like a job interview and showed them I’m not leaving here without being offered the job,” Young said. “This is an opportunity you can’t even have if you’re not going to school.”

"Erika's story is one that I will use to inform current and future students about their career possibilities and the role that the internship plays in it,” said Jones, who advised Young during the internship. “Although she faced several challenges with her personal and financial responsibilities, she received the ultimate payoff with the full-time job. I couldn’t be more excited for her. I believe Erika’s determination made it impossible for her site to let her go.”