Business Administration major Stephanie Twedt ’18, like many Shenandoah students, spent much of her summer interning for a major corporation. However, Twedt connected with her internship at Choice Hotels International’s headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, in a slightly unusual way – through her advocacy for people like her; people with autism.
How did you find out about the Choice Hotels internship?
I was working at the Autism Learning Center annual golf tournament in Ashburn, Virginia. I brought my autism acceptance board to the tournament to help teach the golfers about the topic and have them sign foam hands about why they believe in neurodiversity. Steve Joyce, the CEO of Choice Hotels, saw my board and was impressed. I thanked him and, after he asked, I told him I was studying business administration at Shenandoah University. He then told me to consider applying for the Choice Hotels Summer Internship Program. I looked into it, and I decided it was right for me. I went through a series of interviews with several vice presidents and found out I got the position of Ascend Collection Intern.
What about this internship appealed to you?
I’ve always been fascinated with the hospitality industry and wanted to work with hotels. I’ve always felt that a hotel is more than just a bed; it’s an experience. I also liked that the interns got to do real work, and by that I mean we were treated like full-time employees. We were assigned to jobs that made a positive impact on the company.
What kind of work did you do at the internship?
It was a great summer. I worked on projects to help the company tell its story about the growth of its Ascend Hotel Collection. These are unique boutique and historic hotels becoming part of Choice Hotels because of the company’s leading technology (apps, websites, etc.) and the number of people that are part of the company’s loyalty program. I also worked on a competitive analysis to help Choice assess its competition.
Did you meet the president of Choice Hotels? What role did he play in your internship?
I’ve met both the president, Pat Pacious, and Steve Joyce, the CEO. Pat spoke at several intern events, and I believe this showed the executives’ level of care and support for the interns. On a side note: I got to eat dinner with Steve Joyce one night at a company event, and he is truly an inspiration.
What was the most interesting aspect of the internship? What have you learned?
I like how Choice goes out of its way to make sure the interns are learning something new. Every week, we had ‘shop talks,’ where executives from different departments took time to teach us about their jobs and how each part affects the company. For example, I learned that the Choice Privileges program has granted really nice rewards to customers and more about the launch of Choice’s vacation rentals division. You have high-functioning autism.
How does this affect your daily life, and did it affect your internship in any way?
I have a hard time picking up nonverbal social cues, so I have to remind myself how to talk to people sometimes. I also tend to take things literally, so sometimes people are confused when I can’t take jokes. Occasionally, I feel the need to be able to escape from social situations or else I may shut down and not know what to do. For example, I found the work environment to sometimes be too noisy to concentrate. I was able to book another room to do my work quietly. I’ve learned to take the cues from myself to get work done.
How has autism affected you over the years, including your years at Shenandoah? Did any particular people at Shenandoah help you?
I had a harder time making friends, because I did not have as many inherent social skills as my neurotypical peers. Plus, in elementary school, I was often separated from my general education class to go to special education classes for testing and a weekly lunch group. I was not always happy with this because I wanted to push myself, and it felt like my special education teachers weren’t letting me. The separation ended when I was in high school, when I was able to attend IEP meetings and have a say in my education. I was worried I would not get into college as a former special education student because of the stigma carried with it. Getting into Shenandoah was wonderful because I knew I could learn my way. Upon arriving at Shenandoah, I was nervous because I didn’t know anyone and needed to adapt quickly. I took advantage of both Disability Services and Counseling Services to deal with the transition. In particular, I found Nancy Schulte [now retired] from counseling, my manager Jean Swartz from the admissions office, Amanda Grantham from Career Services, Justin Allen from Spiritual Life, and Donna Raczynski from the admissions office, to be helpful because they knew I was capable of making new friends, so they provided me with ideas on what I could do. Because of their help, I decided to join AKPsi (business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi), so I feel very much at home here.
What are your hopes for the future? How do you feel your internship and your time at Shenandoah will help you realize these hopes?
I want to be able to stay in the hospitality industry, but I don’t really know how. Now that I’ve had experience in this industry, I feel this is what I want to do when I graduate, and I look forward to working with Career Services to help guide me in the future.