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Student Success

UNC and U.S. military partner to provide unique internship opportunities

As a student and strength and conditioning coach for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s women’s basketball team, Hayden Guiliani was used to working with elite athletes. But working with the U.S. Army soldiers at Fort Bragg took her experience to a whole new level.

Guiliani was one of eight students in the UNC system who earned a 12-week US Army Special Operations Command, or USASOC, Combat Development Directorate (CDD) internship, gaining valuable on-the-job experience in her field of study while providing the Army expertise from the UNC system.

“I really needed that hands-on experience,” said Guiliani, a Morgantown, West Virginia native who is currently finishing her Masters in exercise physiology at UNC-Chapel Hill. “I really got to see what true work ethic looks like and learn how to motivate guys who are already motivated. It’s different than coaching college athletes, because a soldiers’ job is more life and death than a college athlete’s. Seeing guys who really want to put in the work, are very respectful, and want to get better at what they do was beneficial for me as a coach.”

The University has partnered with the military since 2010 to offer the military internships. To date, more than 35 UNC system students have taken part, working at Fort Bragg in a variety of disciplines including: graphic design, multimedia illustration, human performance, industrial and organizational psychology, mechanical engineering, cybersecurity, design engineering, computer programming, research technician, electrical engineering, nutrition and physical therapy.

In 2016, UNC expanded the number of military branches for internships, adding the public affairs office of the Naval Special Warfare Command.

Undergraduate and graduate students who apply to the program don’t need any prior connection to the military, such as veteran status or ROTC experience. The most recent group of students represented seven UNC campuses: Appalachian State University, North Carolina A&T University, North Carolina State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Charlotte, UNC Greensboro and Western Carolina University.

“These students have a unique opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge to solve real problems important to national security and do something very meaningful,” said Kathie Sidner, defense applications engineer for the UNC System. “They also sharpen their technical skills as well as critical ‘soft’ skills like verbal communication and teamwork.  This results in a well-designed solution that fits the user’s needs.  These experience and skills better prepare them for the workforce.  And, having that security clearance can be attractive to future employers.”

The program is equally valuable for the Army, which is getting highly motivated students well-trained in their fields to work with Fort Bragg soldiers.

“The intern program between USASOC CDD and the University of North Carolina has been a tremendously successful and productive experience for this Command,” CDD official Sam Joseph said. “CDD is the beneficiary of some of the most incredibly talented young men and women in the nation.  Every UNC intern involved in this program has brought a refreshing degree of enthusiasm, dedication, and problem-solving ability which we’ve applied against some of the most difficult challenges facing our special operations forces today. Our interns were required to operate in a very demanding and fast paced environment, often requiring ‘no-fail’ revolutionary solutions to new and difficult problems. By their performance, these UNC interns, on each and every occasion exceeded all of our expectations and we are grateful to UNC for their support in this effort.”

Adjustment period

Like Guiliani, Julie Harriss was familiar with working with Division I athletes instead of soldiers, so working at Fort Bragg was an adjustment for her.

Harriss, a Charlotte native who received her undergraduate degree in athletic training at Appalachian State, is currently working on her MS degree in post-professional athletic training at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“I worked with physical therapists during the internship, even though I’m an athletic trainer,” said Harriss, who has worked with UNC-Chapel Hill’s field hockey and rowing teams. “It was a unique situation, even though we do similar jobs.  I got the opportunity to see how they did things differently, the different skills that they have, from manipulation to soft-tissue work to different rehab techniques. It was definitely an awesome opportunity, and I’ve taken things back to campus with me.”

Harriss said that while soldiers and D-I athletes are very healthy groups, there are significant differences when working with each one.

“Soldiers want to know what you are doing and why you are doing it,” she said. “With Division I athletes, most of the time they just want you to make them feel better. But the soldiers really want to understand, and I had to be able to explain it to them – this is how this is going to help, and this is the result we expect to see.”

A taste of Army life

Edward Fitzgerald’s internship also involved the health of the Fort Bragg soldiers, but from a completely different perspective. Graduating next month from Appalachian State University with a degree in nutrition, he worked on improving ingredients and menus at the base, both with the base’s kitchen staff and with soldiers on a one-on-one basis.

The Raleigh native said the internship was very different than his academic experience.

“In the classroom, you don’t have the counseling sessions or see the results of your work,” he said. “With the internship, I actually got the experience I needed. Most of being a dietician is counseling, which is what I got to do over the summer. I also did a lot of research and solidified my knowledge base.”

Fitzgerald said a soldier’s life is so different that nutritional guidelines that might work for a person in a 9-to-5 job wouldn’t necessarily work for them.

“We were able to get out into the kitchens to see what kind of food they are getting on base,” he said. “I was able to structure my guidelines around that knowledge. We had the opportunity to go over things with the cooks, to make things a little healthier and the food a little tastier. So, it’s a slow process but it was something that was definitely in our control.”

Sidner said the next group of interns will be selected in December for internships during the 2017 summer session.