Summersville native Elizabeth Hughes had never heard of the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival before becoming a student at West Liberty University, but now she’s one of the festival’s biggest fans — and the newest member of the 2014 board of directors.
The senior tourism and event management major served as coordinator intern for the annual event, held every year the last weekend in July. Learning job-specific skills while providing festival management an able assistant for everything from vendor relations to photography to dinner planning, she is grateful for the chance to add to her resume.
Interestingly, Hughes almost didn’t apply for the position.
“When my faculty advisor first suggested the Italian Festival internship, I was hesitant. I already had a lot going on for the summer, and I’d never done anything quite like this before,” said Hughes, who is enrolled in summer courses and also works on campus at Liberty Oaks Bed and Breakfast as an intern. “But she encouraged me to at least talk to the festival management. It turned out to be a fantastic experience.”
Hughes began the internship in early June, working a few hours a day, twice a week. As with most internships, there is a break-in period where both the sponsor and the intern are getting to know each other and determining capabilities and duties.
“I remember attending my first board meeting,” said Hughes. “It was pretty animated – people were discussing and arguing, and I was really overwhelmed. But it didn’t take long for me to get comfortable with all the great people associated with the festival. And now, I’ve been asked to be a board member for next year.”
Festival Coordinator Kim Smith speaks highly of Hughes’ work.
“Elizabeth was an absolute joy to work with,” said Smith. “She played a major part in our program book and handled all the reservations for our kickoff dinner. Her phone and people presence was beyond what I could ask for. She caught on so quickly to everything we do here. She didn’t back down or hesitate on anything she was asked to do and showed great initiative on our day-to-day operations.”
As the festival drew closer, Hughes began working every day, often late into the evening. She worked on all types of tasks, including advertising, vendor contracts, festival setup and entertainment. She attended board meetings and worked closely with committee chairs, volunteers, and corporate sponsors.
“A student cannot ask for a better resume-enhancer than a truly hands-on internship,” says Annette McKain Godown, Hughes’ faculty advisor and coordinator of the tourism and event management program in the Gary E. West College of Business.
“Classes provide a lot of information and examples, but they cannot match the real-life experience of handling the last-minute problems, the long hours, the truly hard work that goes into a major event,” said Godown. “I’m so pleased Elizabeth took on this internship. I’ve watched her grow into a very confident professional and a great representative of our program.”
Hughes will serve as an associate member of the board of directors and hopes to mentor next year’s intern.
“I’ll be working with the festival throughout the year. I feel like I can be even more of an asset now that I’ve had the internship experience.”
Hughes, the daughter of Mike and Patty Hughes of Summersville, received the West College of Business 2013 Peter Sontag Service Excellence Award and plans to graduate from WLU in December 2014. She plans to pursue a position in event or resort management.