Students gain real-world experience through job shadowing event

Senior parks and recreation major Nick Botello-Hernandez (left) got to spend a day shadowing WCU alumnus Robert McGraw, superintendent of Mount Mitchell State Park.

Nick Botello-Hernandez has known for a while now that he wants to be a park ranger. But having a recent opportunity to job shadow with Western Carolina University alumnus Robert McGraw, superintendent of Mount Mitchell State Park, and park ranger Daniel Jackson for a day further cemented his career path.

Botello-Hernandez, a senior parks and recreation management major from Walkertown, was one of several WCU students who spent the day job shadowing at an Asheville-area business or company.

A group of WCU students attended the Charlotte Job Shadowing Day, which was hosted by alumna Loretta Dodgen at her Multiple Choice Inc. corporate office.

WCU’s Job Shadowing Day, which was co-sponsored by the Office of Alumni Engagement and the Center for Career and Professional Development, also took place this semester in Atlanta and for the first time in Charlotte. In all, 25 students and mentors participated, which was the largest group ever.

“With this program, we match WCU students, based on their career interest, with alumni and friends of the university for a day of job shadowing,” said Marty Ramsey, director of alumni affairs. “This initiative has better engaged our alumni with current students and has offered them an opportunity to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it in a real working world experience.”

Botello-Hernandez said his first job was working at Hanging Rock State Park in Danbury. He enjoyed seeing the rangers in uniform and the stature they held. It was then that he knew he wanted to be one.

His job shadowing consisted of spending time with McGraw, who was in his last day at Mount Mitchell before his transfer to Gorges State Park. Botello-Hernandez also was shown around the park by ranger Jackson.

“It was really informative,” Botello-Hernandez said. “Before, I had one mindset of what a park ranger was, but for me, I need something different and that’s what they do. They’re not just educators or cops. They do other things.

“I didn’t know where to go for state jobs, and Rob, the superintendent, told me to go to He actually said to put him down as a reference. This sets me up for the future. After I finish graduation, I can start a job there and try to move up in the ranks and get more involved with the rangers.”

McGraw was more than willing to assist in WCU’s Job Shadowing day, mentioning that he still remains in contact with WCU parks and recreation associate professor Ben Tholkes and instructor Debby Singleton.

“I don’t think everybody gets an opportunity to sit in a room with someone who says, ‘This is how I got started. This is what you need to do,’ ” McGraw said. “You can always go to college and get the training, get the education, and this is what you’re going to experience once you get on, but then getting hired is a whole other challenge. That face-to-face interaction and talking about resumes and the screening process and what we actually do every day, I think it’s critical.”

Following his meeting with McGraw, Botello-Hernandez was given a tour of the park by Jackson, who gave him a rundown of a ranger’s daily duties at Mount Mitchell. Jackson showed him the trail work that they do, the facilities, the concession stand, the classroom and the park museum.

Jackson, who is a journey-level park ranger, also explained the ranger’s main jobs – law enforcement, emergency response, maintenance and overall upkeep of the park, and natural resource trail work and education.

“I started out as a seasonal employee at Lake James State Park when I was in high school,” Jackson said. “I got to work alongside rangers and it’s kind of what propelled me into the job I wanted.

“A lot of people are unaware of what we actually do. They don’t understand that there are so many different tiers of what our job does. I think it’s very beneficial to come here and talk to different staff members that do different things.”

Senior Kayla Smith spent her day in Asheville learning about human resources at Eaton.

Kayla Smith, a senior business management major from Asheville, got to spend the day in her hometown shadowing Brennan Brumfield, a human resources leadership development participant at Eaton, a power management company that manufactures energy-efficient products.

Smith, who is interested in pursuing a career in human resources, spent the day gaining valuable on-the-job experience. When she arrived, Brumfield was finishing up a new-hire orientation of about 20 new employees. Smith also sat in on several meetings.

“We talked a lot about different HR functions and responsibilities,” Brumfield said. “She did a site tour and she sat in on a meeting where we were discussing our training for temporary workers and new hires. Training is a big part of our role. It’s very critical because we have such a fast-paced, complex business.”

Smith, who graduates in May, said she has been looking for internships and jobs, but has not had much luck. When the opportunity came to participate in the Job Shadowing Day, she jumped at the chance.

“I think it’s really going to help me to have knowledge and preparation for future interviews,” Smith said. “He’s given me a lot of good information, like what to say and what not to say, especially with me wanting to go into HR. I really enjoyed it. I took in a lot of information.”

WCU students are shown at the Atlanta Job Shadowing Day, which was hosted by UBS Financial Services.

This was the ninth year that the Office of Alumni Engagement and the Center for Career and Professional Development have collaborated to sponsor the event.

“This year, we had freshmen through senior students participate in the program,” said Theresa Cruz Paul, director of the Center for Career and Professional Development. “It allowed the more junior students to explore different career paths and make decisions, and it allowed the more senior students to get hands-on experience and network with professionals in their chosen fields. The inclusion of Charlotte allowed us to make additional connections with alumni in the region and to incorporate new fields for students to explore.”