Shawnese Cleveland smiles for the camera

Hindsight 2020: The intern

Gamecocks reflect on how COVID-19 changed their jobs and how they work

This summer, Carolinian magazine reached out to a cross-section of alumni, faculty, staff and students to ask how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed their work, and their workplace philosophies. Sport and entertainment management major Shawnese Cleveland, ’21, had an internship lined up with the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World when the pandemic torpedoed her plans. But an event planning internship created for her by the staff at Russell House gave her a stepping stone to the next gig, an 18-month internship at a Penn National Gaming resort in Las Vegas. “We were one of the first big schools to actually bring life back to our building,” says Cleveland. “We had to figure out how to make things work because the students deserved to have something going on, and it was our job to help give them that.”

Probably the biggest event we did was that first Monday when students had just come back. It was a press conference with the football team on Greene Street. That was while the Russell House was getting graffitied by people complaining about how the university was handling COVID. That was my first day — trying to do everything to make the event COVID-safe while there’s stuff about Covid painted on the walls and the press are all there.

The pandemic changed guest-to-guest interaction, how much contact each guest will have with other guests and how many transactions there are at an event. Once you have to count all of those interactions you realize just how much your planning and your decisions actually matter.

We hosted the Association of African American Students cookout within my first two weeks. I had attended every semester that I was at USC — it’s this really big party on Greene Street, it’s such a fun moment — and even though we knew it wouldn’t be the same, we still had to give it our best effort. We had to give students the experience they deserved, and especially give the freshmen those memories they deserved. Logistically, that was difficult, but we figured it out, and the students were so thankful. 

My idea of what this industry really is, that was framed during COVID — because I was kind of put in a box. It wasn’t what I was expecting, working with all the new safety guidelines, but I just had to learn to work inside that box. 

The internship in Las Vegas will involve a different scale of events, but the experience at Russell House — working with what’s available and making the best of what’s available — taught me so much. Just having that autonomy and the chance to be in charge of something gave me the confidence I needed.

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