Alumnus finds clarity through an internship

Internships can be extremely helpful in finding, starting, or furthering a career. They not only look great on a resume, but provide unique opportunities and experiences to expand your knowledge and skill set.

Jeff Rea (’91) arrived at Campbell in 1987 wanting to become a pharmacist. He planned to follow in the footsteps of his parents, both his grandfathers, and his great-grandfather, who were all pharmacists. Spending much of his childhood in and around a pharmacy, this career path seemed natural. What he quickly realized upon his arrival at Campbell was that it was not the medical aspect of pharmacy that interested him, but the administrative component.

Rea was not exactly sure what to do with this realization, but he knew he no longer wanted to major in pre-pharmacy. He decided to pursue a degree in government with a concentration in public administration, hoping it would open up opportunities in both the private and public sectors. Although he enjoyed his classes, Rea was still unsure what he wanted to do; this all changed with an internship.

“Students often enter a major because it sounds like something they would like, but end up changing their mind after having hands-on experience,” remarked Betsy Williams from the Campbell University Academic Advising Office. Many of Campbell’s programs require internships because they provide a valuable outlet for producing work outside of an academic setting. They can also help students decipher professional interests and how to apply academic skill sets. Williams encourages students to “intern often and early.”

Rea’s academic advisor helped him connect with an opportunity at the Dunn City Manager’s office. Although he had been to Dunn many times while living on campus, he did not know much about the town. Rea was immediately given a front row seat to the inner workings of the Dunn City Government. Despite his lack of experience, they put him to work right away.

He quickly learned that his internship would be a meaningful experience, and would require much more than making copies and grabbing coffee for higher-ups. His first task: review and understand the City’s “Use of Force and Deadly Force” policies. In 1991, Rodney King was arrested and beaten by four LAPD officers. This sparked a lot of conversation about use of force and police brutality. During his internship, Rea was able to have a seat at the table during the City of Dunn’s conversations surrounding the topic.

As time went on, Rea worked diligently on a variety of projects. His main job consisted of meeting with local neighborhood residents to collect information that would help the city obtain federal community development block grants; these grants helped to support low income residents.

“No two days seemed alike, and I got some great insight into the men and women working hard each day for the City to make it a better place,” Rea shared. “I was hooked. I could see myself wanting to do something like this as I gathered my diploma in the spring of 1991. I left hoping for an opportunity in a City Manager’s office somewhere in North Carolina. I was open to anything.”

After graduation, Rea worked in the private sector for a few years, but his desire to do something meaningful on behalf of a community never left; this was greatly influenced by the people and the experiences he had at his internship. Four years later, he returned to his hometown and accepted an entry level position with the city of Mishawaka, Indiana.

Rea went on to be elected the Mayor of Mishawaka and served a seven year term. Today, he runs the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. He is now more on the business side of things, but still does economic development and spends a lot of his time on business advocacy.

Rea oversees a community of over 50-thousand shareholders and 680 employees. He is putting his Campbell education to use everyday, and still uses the experience he gained in Dunn to navigate financial difficulties and set the community up for long term success. “I remember very clearly my first ‘real-job’ experience that my internship afforded me, and know that it had a big influence on my career path and still influences me in my job today,” Rea reflected.

Rea says an internship is the perfect way to “make sure you’re in the right field.” He encourages Campbell students to take advantage of the opportunity for internships that college provides. In his role at the Chamber of Commerce, Rea believes interns are a critical component of the talent pipeline. He launched an intern program that helps connect interns to opportunities in the Mishawaka area, and employers to interns. The program has helped place hundreds of interns in the region. Every year, they run a summer program that connects those interns with other interns in the area. Their hope is that the program and employers give interns a good employment and community experience, resulting in more prospective employees in the region.

Campbell University’s Alumni Association launched a similar program called CamelLink. CamelLink provides alumni and current students the chance to connect, network, and share job opportunities. CamelLink includes resources for alumni, students, and faculty and staff, and facilitates the formation of mentor-mentee relationships. If you have an internship opportunity to share or would like to connect with students, join CamelLink at