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Internship Program Gives Student Taste Of Rural Life

Sept. 8, 2010
SHSU Media Contact: Amy Barnett

Food service management major Lindsay Byrd interviews Jeana’s Feedbag Catering owner Jeana Kaufman as part of her Texas Rural Internship Program experience. Byrd spent five weeks over the summer in Levelland, 30 miles west of Lubbock, shadowing five business owners, including a radio station owner, a restaurant owner and a caterer. —Photos by Steve Conway.

 

Sam Houston State University senior Lindsay Byrd has put a lot of thought into what she’ll do after she graduates in May.

The food service management major has considered opening a bakery or starting her own catering business in College Station, where she currently lives and works.

While contemplating her dreams of entrepreneurship over summer break, Byrd did not waste her days saying “maybe” or “what if”; instead she jumped on an opportunity to see firsthand how small-town, small business owners manage their lives and successful businesses.

It was possible thanks to the Texas Rural Internship Program, a joint initiative between the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Center for Rural Studies at SHSU.

“We have a lot of students here at Sam who grew up in urban areas, especially Houston, and so it is a way to get them out to see rural Texas,” said Gene Theodori, professor of Sociology and director of the Center for Rural Studies.

Theodori oversees the program, which pairs students with host families in participating communities for five weeks during the summer, allowing them to experience life in rural Texas towns.

This is SHSU’s second year to offer the program, which allowed students to visit small towns such as Canadian, Eden and Muleshoe.

“When students hear ‘rural internship’ they may think it means spending their summer milking cows; however, that is not the purpose of the program,” said Theodori.

“But if a student wants to go to a farm, he or she can do that. We had one student who really wanted to milk a cow and one of our host families had a dairy, so she went to live on the dairy.”

Others spent their summer working with the towns’ chambers of commerce and economic development corporations on development initiatives; several helped plan large summer festivals.

“One student worked on a barbecue goat festival cook-off; another student worked on a dove festival,” said Theodori.

Byrd, in a field in Levelland.

Then there’s Byrd, who went to Levelland, where she shadowed five business owners, including a radio station owner, a restaurant owner and a caterer.

“This project really sparked my interest; how can you make it in a small town that’s so isolated?” said Byrd.

Levelland, which is about 30 miles west of Lubbock, has a population of 12,000. Byrd lived with two different families during her internship and blogged about her experiences.

“They made me feel like family; it was nice. I’ve never lived with people who aren’t family before and they welcomed me right in,” said Byrd.

Business owners welcomed her as well.

“The caterer called me on my last night in town. She was going to be catering an event for a group of Australians and New Zealanders who were going to be on a cotton farm,” said Byrd.

“She picked me up and we went out and fed these people these amazing two-inch thick pork chops that she was famous for. That was her trademark thing. It was nothing fancy; she used paper plates, but she has really thrived in that community.”

Byrd quickly learned the importance of catering to your community.

“It made me realize you have to customize your business to the people you’re with,” she said, “Jeana’s Feedbag probably would not do as well in Houston or Austin, but she is ‘it’ out there.”

Towns participating in the Texas Rural Internship Program also stand to benefit from the program by finding out an outsider’s perspective on their community.

“They’re really working hard to renovate their town square, and it looks great. But they close their restaurants down on the weekends because everyone goes to Lubbock; you can’t attract visitors to the town square if everything is closed,” said Byrd.

Byrd and the other eight students who took part in the Texas Rural Internship Program this summer will receive class credit hours for their work after presenting their final reports to Theordori and the Texas Department of Agriculture.

But what may be more important than credit toward their degrees is the hands-on experience they received while visiting these small towns.

“It was interesting to see how a community works by helping each other out and how the chamber helps the local businesses. I think a lot of people my age don’t think about that; we’re used to relying on technology and everything we need is just a click away,” said Bryd.

As for Byrd’s plans after graduation, well, that’s still up for consideration.

“I had these thoughts that if I had a bakery it would be wonderful with no struggles, but there would be struggles, so this internship has made me question my finances and other things that I didn’t question before.”

All SHSU students are eligible for the Texas Rural Internship Program. Theodori will begin offering applications for the program in early spring; however, students who want to learn more about it now can contact him at 936.294.4143.

 

 

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