A Unique Internship Experience That Creates a Better You
By: Trent Pennington
Life-changing: How I would describe my experience at DistinXion.
It was the fall semester of 2014, and I was a young college sophomore looking to land my first internship position. Professional “grown up” experience was something I had not done. I am from the small southern Indiana town of Salem. I spent the majority of my life (especially summers) working odd jobs. I umpired little league baseball games, mowed lawns, detailed cars, delivered pizzas, worked in a factory, taught baseball lessons to kids, worked on a farm, worked at a bank as a teller, and had the glorious job of checking people out at Wal-Mart as a cashier (not fun). This was all new to me, and I felt I was already behind the 8 ball compared to my friends and fellow students.
I noticed that the School of Public Health was hosting a career fair - I checked my schedule, and due to a conflict I was unable to attend. Rather than giving up on the possibility of connecting with employers and companies, I scanned the list of those attending to see if any caught my eye. There it was: DistinXion, A Zeller Family Program.
Like most of you reading this, I had no clue what DistinXion was. I had never heard of it. Was that a typo? These people can’t even spell the word “distinction” correctly. The name Zeller, however, was something that grabbed my attention. Any IU fan, and especially one from Indiana, is familiar with that name: a tremendously talented basketball family, but most importantly even greater people. I googled the company, applied, interviewed, and started as a spring 2015 semester intern. I initially thought this would be a simple 1 semester experience – little did I know it would turn out to be a life-changing experience. I was fortunate enough to serve at DistinXion as an intern for 3 school semesters and 1 summer, as well as hold the Operations Manager position for 2 school semesters and 1 summer.
DistinXion Does What?
DistinXion is a local non-profit in Bloomington with a simple mission: positively impact the lives of youth and their families through sport. The sport that DistinXion primarily uses to achieve this mission is basketball. Founder and President, Luke Zeller, was fortunate enough to play college basketball for the University of Notre Dame, in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns, and on several NBA affiliates and international teams. Luke always had a dream of using basketball to teach character and leadership to kids. As his professional career was coming to an end, he decided to make that dream come true. (To learn more about DistinXion’s mission and history, click here)
At the core of DistinXion are basketball and character camps in the form of 1, 2, and 3 day camps that primarily take place during the summer months in Indiana. Additionally, DistinXion has always provided private basketball training and organized several basketball tournaments.
Aside from basketball, DistinXion has offered other sport camps and services to impact the lives of kids including cheerleading and baseball camps. Currently, DistinXion is seeing rapid growth in a newly formed AAU basketball program for middle school and high school student-athletes.
Lastly, the DistinXion internship program is a core internal service that the organization takes great pride in. There are 3 internship programs: fall semester, spring semester, and summer (or a combination of either of those).
The Internship Xperience
It is difficult to accurately describe the DistinXion internship program in person, let alone just text! The internship experience differs dramatically between the semester internship and summer internship.
The opportunity to learn about yourself and grow as a person through serving others and pouring into the lives of kids is a great feeling.
The summer internship program:
The summer internship program is by far much more powerful and transformative. This is partly due to the amount of time you spend with the organization relative to a school semester internship, but mostly due to the nature of the program and responsibilities assigned. The past summer internship was 13 weeks long. Every week during the summer, except for the week of July 4th, there were 1 or 2 day basketball camps on Monday and Tuesday at a high school somewhere in Indiana, and 3 day camps on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at another high school. Due to my position, I did not attend the camps throughout the week as I oversaw the office operations; we would work in the office from 8 AM – 4 PM on a typical day. We would often rotate who went to camp throughout the week, and the rest of the team stayed back in the office to work on projects.
The coolest part about our 3 day camps on the weekend was everyone went. The 3 day camps are what really makes the internship experience different. You have the opportunity to travel with a team of amazing friends to a random town in Indiana you might not have heard of and stay with a host family for 2 nights. This is an eye-opening experience where you get to see the generosity of people you have never met through home cooked meals, hot showers, and a free roof to stay under. You will make more than a few memories while being on the road so often and staying overnight with a group of your best friends!
The semester internship program
The fall and spring semester internship programs are a great way to start at DistinXion if you are unsure about the summer program. They are less time consuming as you only spend around 8 hours a week in the office throughout the duration of the 16 week semester (excluding finals week). Semester internship groups are typically smaller than summer internship groups (approximately 6 – 12 interns total). You will spend the majority of your time working on projects that range from developing social media strategy and posts to creating proposals for new and potential camps and ideas.
DistinXion provides a mixture of personal and professional development. There is a great balance of having fun and serving others at camp while also working to become a better professional in the office.
Please keep in mind that I am drawing from previous experiences at DistinXion. I have since moved on from the organization. DistinXion is a small, dynamic, and adaptive organization that often changes it’s camp offerings, internship responsibilities, etc. This is what makes it so fun and challenging!
Who Is The Internship Best For?
That’s easy: anyone. DistinXion’s previous interns have come from all disciplines: business, non-profit management, sport marketing and management, graphic design, informatics, and many more. If you are interested in becoming a basketball coach or running a non-profit, this internship is definitely for you. If that’s not you, DistinXion is still in need of diversely skilled people! You will learn soft skills that are transferable to any industry and career path that are difficult to develop anywhere else.
Top 5 life-changing lessons
It took me some time to narrow this list down to 5. These 5 things do not come close to explaining what I learned at DistinXion, but I believe these are the most important:
- Becoming a leader: DistinXion achieves leadership development by placing interns in uncomfortable and unfamiliar environments where a great deal of autonomy and individual responsibility is needed. You will learn about the power of people and partnerships, and the true definition of leadership: influencing others in order to achieve a desired outcome.
- The art of serving others: DistinXion is an unpaid internship that is service oriented. The organization’s mission is to provide services for others. As humans, we are often self-centered and looking for what is best for us; however, one of the most powerful and difficult lessons to learn is serving someone else while looking for nothing in return.
- The importance of patience: As young millennials that are eager to jumpstart their careers, we often become impatient – we want that big promotion and fancy title immediately. We want to be working for a professional sports team - and not just working, but in a position of great power and responsibly. Sometimes a reality check is needed. It’s important to remember that life is about steps, and often baby steps. Some of the most successful people in the world do not achieve their goals until they are middle-aged and older. You must put in your time, ask questions, fail often, and be patient.
- What it means to be a person of high character: My character fundamentally changed as a result of working at DistinXion, and that’s a crazy to think about! Character is who you are when no one is watching. Character is your network of friends and who you hang around. Character is your attitude and decision making. DistinXion provides you with a group of colleagues that push you in all of these areas, and I am happy to say that I have met some of my best friends at DistinXion.
- “Communicate, communicate, and communicate again”: These are the words of a multi-million dollar banking CEO. The importance of communication can sometimes be overstated and overlooked, but the truth is communication is vital for success in any area of life. If you cannot effectively communicate a business plan to a co-worker, a problem to your spouse, your feelings to a friend, the help you need from a professor, you will be mediocre.
I encourage everyone to check out DistinXion and learn more about this amazing organization. Follow this link to learn more and apply for an internship position: https://distinxion.org/staff-opportunities. If you have any questions about the organization, the internship, or anything else please do not hesitate to contact me by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. DistinXion may not be a fortune 500 company or the flashy professional sport internship you are looking for right out of the gate, but it is the experience that will lay the foundation of soft skills that you will use for the rest of your life in all facets, and skills that are increasingly more difficult for employers to find. I wish you the best of luck in whatever you are currently doing!
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Trent Pennington is a Master’s candidate at the Indiana University School of Public Health studyingAthletic Administration and Sport Management. He currently works for the School of Public Health Office of Career Services as a Student Services Assistant, and also interns with Exclusive Sports Group (ESG), a professional multi-sport player agency in Indianapolis. To contact Trent, please email him at: email@example.com.