Last spring when commercial graphics major Zack Waggoner began thinking about finding an internship, he was focused on how the work would boost his resume and give him important experience before graduation. After hearing about an opportunity with Joplin-based American Ramp Company from his professors in the Graphics and Imaging department, he soon negotiated a paid internship.
But when the city's deadly tornado tore through in May, it made his summer internship a whole lot more interesting.
Waggoner, who started three days after the tornado, was hired to handle a host of web needs for the company including online branding, social media, even building a website from scratch. But with the entire community focused on recovering from the tornado (and his company signed on as a sponsor of the big "I Am Joplin" event), Waggoner stepped into a more visible role as graphic designer for the event and its logo.
An evening of fun and relaxation for the ailing community, the "I Am Joplin" event drew a huge crowd and had bands, food, face painting, games for kids, and a butterfly release for those who lost their lives in the tornado.
"An event like that added so much to what I do," said Waggoner, who hopes to find a job in Austin or San Francisco after graduation next May. "To do something so focused for six weeks, and to see hundreds of volunteers wearing shirts I made, it's heartwarming to be part of something that will be remembered for a long time."
In between the long hours he put in for that event, Waggoner also learned how to build a website (you can see his work at www.hardcoreskateparks.com) and created a 12-foot map of the city of Joplin for The Bridge, a Joplin skate park, so that workers could keep track of the areas of the city that still needed help.
It was all healing work for Waggoner, who took cover in his girlfriend's south Joplin home as the tornado roared through. Fortunate to have made it out, he also feels lucky to have had an internship during the city's summer of recovery.
Now armed with several freelance jobs, Waggoner advises other students not to overlook the value of an internship.
"You can't just go to class and expect to learn everything there. You have to get out and do it," he said. "You need the experience of an internship, because theory can only go so far. This company gave me a huge opportunity to be creative and run with it. Now I know I can make anything happen that I put my mind to."