Was it Their Internship . . . or Mine?

Elliott Holt is an EO Nashville member and CEO of MediCopy Services, Inc., offering simple, secure solutions for healthcare information management. He was originally uncertain about the benefits of having student interns, but his initial experience changed his outlook completely, as he shares here.

As an entrepreneur, the thought of student internships has long represented a double-edged sword. While I want to do the right thing and provide opportunities for students to learn and grow through real-world experience, I worry that the time commitment by my full-time employees to manage the interns might negatively impact our productivity.

At least, that was my stance until three years ago, when I had the opportunity to hire my first interns. EO Nashville teamed up with Vanderbilt University and their football program to offer their players paid internships at our local businesses. Personally, I’m not a sports fan, so that aspect of the program wasn’t a draw for me.

Despite my reservations, I attended the initial meeting and listened to what Alan Young, President of EO Nashville, and Derek Mason, Vanderbilt’s football coach, envisioned. When I heard their impassioned rationale for implementing this program―to counter the fact that football is so all-consuming that student athletes often sacrifice real-world experience―my skepticism melted away, and I enthusiastically signed on to take five summer interns.

My skepticism melted away, and I enthusiastically signed on to take five summer interns.

In the following weeks, the football players interviewed with multiple EO businesses. I personally interviewed five candidates. I was honest, telling them I didn’t watch football, so their local fame and impressive game stats didn’t mean much to me. Still, I was excited about bringing five young men who were each over six feet tall and 200 pounds into our organization.

Initially, my team at MediCopy didn’t share my enthusiasm, thinking the players would act in an entitled manner or were just doing the internship because their coach wanted them to. Happily, we couldn’t have been more misguided in our thinking.

We learned quickly that each one of these young men wanted not only to make their coach proud but to make us proud as well. Our interns attended two football practices a day while also working in our office for six to eight hours. Because of this high level of dedication, I wanted to ensure that they received a great experience throughout the internship.

During their 12 weeks in our office, our football interns had professional photos taken, created their first LinkedIn page, volunteered at Inc.’s annual GrowCo event which happened to be in Nashville that year, and were each assigned to a specific department in our company: human resources, marketing, accounting, account management or business development. Despite initial reservations, the MediCopy team enjoyed their youthful energy, team spirit, goal-oriented mindset, endurance and persistence.

Despite initial reservations, the MediCopy team enjoyed their youthful energy, team spirit, goal-oriented mindset, endurance and persistence.

Each intern excelled and truly amazed me with what they brought to the table. One intern, Will Holden, who was recently drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, helped our human resources department revamp both our Policies and Procedures Manual and Employee Handbook. Steven Scheu, who recently signed with the Denver Broncos, helped facilitate new workflows for our accounts receivable department. Another intern, Jimmy Stewart, proved to be such a strong contributor that after his senior year, I hired him as a project coordinator. Our other two former interns frequently check in with the team.

I was surprised how hard it was to say goodbye at the end of the 12-week program. In my effort to make the internship a positive experience and provide them with insight into real business challenges, I had become invested in these five motivated, committed athletes and as a result learned way more than I thought I would. They walked away with a good amount of knowledge and experience, but they weren’t the only ones who benefited: I know for a fact that I am a better person from having those interns. I was so impressed with their efforts and contributions all summer that I wrote a personal letter to each of their parents, emphasizing what fine young men they have raised and how proud they should be.

They walked away with a good amount of knowledge and experience, but they weren’t the only ones who benefited: I know for a fact that I am a better person from having those interns.

My team at MediCopy, my family and close friends realized exactly how much the experience changed me when, the following fall, I attended several Vanderbilt Commodores football games. Even though I was not a football fan per se, I had become a big fan of the five players who helped me rediscover the true meaning of teamwork!

Since that first summer, EO Nashville has continued its student intern program in conjunction with Vanderbilt each year. I’m happy to report that the program has grown to include interns from all of the university’s sports programs. This gives both male and female student athletes a great opportunity for real-world experience, and other companies the opportunity to see their business and its challenges through fresh eyes.

The Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) helps leading entrepreneurs learn and grow through peer-to-peer learning, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and connections to experts. Discover the Entrepreneurs’ Organization today!

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