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How I got the job: VCU interns learn the value of company culture at Southwest Airlines

Tim Thomas and Kristina Hipolito were two of 132 interns selected from a pool of 9,934 applicants.

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Tim Thomas, left, and Kristina Hipolito are two of 132 interns at Southwest Airlines this spring. They were selected from a pool of 9,934 applicants. (Courtesy photo)

Tim Thomas and Kristina Hipolito did not know each other when they applied for internships at Southwest Airlines. They met during orientation in Dallas.

“It was kind of surprising to see another person from VCU, I wasn’t expecting it,” Thomas said. “But it was nice to know I had a common connection with someone out here.”

Thomas, a first-year graduate student in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, and Hipolito, a 2016 graduate of the College of Humanities and Sciences, are two of 132 interns at Southwest this spring. They were selected from a pool of 9,934 applicants.

“Southwest is known for its company culture and that initially drew me to apply,” said Hipolito, a community programs and engagement intern. “I met someone who did the internship a few summers ago and it looked like she had such a great time and learned so much. Southwest really integrates fun into work. I’m not surprised [the internship is so popular].”

Hipolito graduated from the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in December with a degree in mass communication. She was a career ambassador in the VCU Career Services office from 2014–2015 and worked with Kim Hanneman, assistant director of career and industry advising, for her Southwest application.

“She’s the best,” Hipolito said of Hanneman. “I talked to her about the things I wanted to do post-graduation and she really helped me figure things out. We talked through my resume and online portfolio.”

I met someone who did the internship a few summers ago and it looked like she had such a great time and learned so much. Southwest really integrates fun into work.

Hipolito works with Southwest’s national charity partners and assists with outreach programs, including Heart of the Community, which builds central public spaces in towns and cities. One of her favorite things about working at Southwest is the opportunity to connect with people in different departments.

“They really encourage that openness in the company,” Hipolito said. “They have a program called ‘day in the field’ where you get to shadow people in another department for the day. Anyone can do it — employees and interns.”

Thomas, who is studying homeland security and emergency preparedness, is a business continuity intern. He learned about the Southwest program while searching for internships on LinkedIn.

“I read the description and it seemed like something I would be very interested in,” said Thomas, who graduated from the University of Richmond last spring.

Business continuity identifies risk, threats and vulnerabilities that could affect an organization’s operations and ensures the organization can continue operating in disaster scenarios. As part of his internship, Thomas has run through recovery plans and is working with members of the Supply Chain Management team to create a training and awareness program.

“This opportunity relates perfectly to emergency preparedness,” he said. “And the team is very close-knit. Everyone has been very friendly and helpful. It’s a great environment to work in.”

Interns at Southwest receive free flight benefits. Hipolito has visited San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Thomas recently traveled to see the Grand Canyon. The VCU interns are interested in pursuing careers tied to their current work. Staying with Southwest could be an option. Many longtime employees began as interns.

Thomas is looking to stay in business continuity, possibly in aviation. Hipolito wants to work in tourism or travel.

“I think it’s really important that companies create strong relationships with their consumers,” she said. “I want to be part of that.”

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