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Pop-up sports internship program helps ease pain for USC students

Students at the campus of USC head to classes.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Ellie Schneider had 2020 all planned out, with extraordinary opportunities that would set herself up for her senior year at USC, and the real world beyond.

Then came the coronavirus crisis. In the first week of March, her semester of study in Italy was cut short, and she scrambled to return home. Within a couple of weeks, the NBA canceled the summer internship program in which she was set to participate.

“I was looking forward to learning in such a great environment,” Schneider said. “I think it’s the fastest-growing league, and probably the most progressive league, in the world right now.”

As just about any college student would tell you, an internship in the summer before your senior year can be critical in completing graduation requirements, securing that first job, or developing a network of contacts in your chosen field.

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All of this summer’s internship programs have not vanished. But, when live events are shut down, so are most of the internship opportunities in those areas.

A lawsuit announced Tuesday seeks refunds for students who, as a result of the coronavirus closures, lost out on in-person instruction, housing, meals and other elements of campus life and were not paid back tuition and fees.

“Sports and entertainment are where I have seen the heaviest hit,” said Suzanne Alcantara, director of career development at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Enter Raleigh Anne Gray. In two weeks, Gray put together a virtual internship program for more than 150 students around the country, all displaced from their summer opportunities in the sports business.

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USC student Ellie Schneider will be one of the 150 students participating in the summer pop-up virtual program.
( Ellie Schneider)

Gray works for Los Angeles-based Wasserman, the powerhouse sports and entertainment agency, in helping athletes navigate the digital world. Doctors and grocery store workers have responsibilities during this pandemic, she thought, but so should others.

“We’re staying home, and that’s what we’re supposed to do,” she said. “This is my opportunity, and the industry’s opportunity, to do something and pay it forward.”

Kate Aschkenasy, another USC student, also lost an NBA internship. She would like to tell human interest sports stories — “the person behind the player,” she said — and a summer working with the NBA’s global content division would have been invaluable.

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USC student Kate Aschkenasy will be participating in the summer pop-up virtual program.
(Kate Aschkenasy)

“This is a stressful time for rising seniors,” she said, “trying to get my resume to where I want it to be when I go into the work force. I was definitely stressed. I couldn’t find anything that was valuable or made sense to me that late in the job process.”

The NBA invited Schneider and Aschkenasy to join the intern program next summer, they said, and pledged to present some online conversations with league officials this summer.

In Gray’s free program – run under the auspices of “Must Love Sports,” the networking group she founded before joining Wasserman – students will participate for a minimum of five hours per week. They will meet with industry leaders for online discussions, and they will join with a small group of fellow students for a summer project assigned by such companies as DraftKings, NASCAR, and Turner Sports. The project will be done remotely, the way industry professionals operate these days.

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In a frantic two weeks, as Gray raced to line up commitments from companies and guest speakers, she also worked with more than a dozen colleges, in part to ensure the program would meet the needs of those schools that would award credit for it.

Alcantara said she is thrilled that Annenberg students can make lemonade out of a summer that otherwise had turned up lemons.

“USC students don’t know what to do with down time,” she said. “They want to keep making industry connections. They want to keep building their skills and their networks. That’s why I was really excited about this.

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“This spoke to them as a way to keep engaged with a variety of industries across the country.”

The deadline to apply for Gray’s summer sports business internship program is Monday, May 11. Details: https://www.mustlovesports.com/summersession


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