Ozarks student turns class project into summer internship

Release Date: 6/27/2012

Serendipity is when you get a happy surprise in life. For U of O junior Max Hilgendorf, serendipity came in the form of a full-time paid summer internship with the Clarksville-Johnson County Chamber of Commerce.

"Last summer I worked as a camp counselor at Camp Ozark in Mount Ida (Ark.)," Hilgendorf said, "They offered me a position again this summer, but I knew for practical reasons I needed an actual summer job, so I started looking around. I'm a strategic communication major and was working with U of O Director of Broadcasting Susan Edens on some side projects, one of which was writing a script for a short, five or six minute community video for the Clarksville-Johnson County Chamber of Commerce. Susan suggested as long as I was working on a Chamber project anyway, I should go talk to them and try to turn it into an internship. So I approached the Chamber's chief economic development officer, Travis Stephens, and he said yes."

Max Hilgendorf

Max Hilgendorf, a strategic communication major, is interning this summer for the Clarksville-Johnson County Chamber of Commerce.

Hilgendorf said he's previously worked on projects like the Little Rock marathon and comparable work in Fort Smith, where he's from originally, but that he didn't accept any of the summer offers from bigger cities. "I think for me personally there are more opportunities working in the Chamber here," he said, "And I have the chance to take on more responsibilities than I would have been given in Fort Smith or Little Rock."

The video, when it's finished, will be available online for future visitors to Clarksville and Johnson County, as well as businesses thinking of re-locating to the area.

"Max is a sharp guy and I'm glad he's working with us," said Stephens. "The Chamber is here to support not only the existing business community in Clarksville---we help them grow through helping them promote themselves in various ways---but we also work to recruit new businesses to move to the area, which is where Max's film will come into play." 

Now that pre-production on the video project is finished---they will have to wait until the fall to shoot more footage---Hilgendorf is working on some other assignments for the Chamber. "Just today I started working on the Chamber's downtown revitalization project," he said. "I'm doing an inventory of all the vacant buildings downtown and seeking out contact information for their owners. Once I've compiled the list, Travis will contact them and find out what plans if any the owners have for these properties. Some are owned by trusts, so it's a challenge sometimes to find out who owns what. I can spend a couple hours sometimes just going through databases trying to track down that sort of information."

Hilgendorf said he loves Clarksville and hopes his work will contribute toward the Chamber's goals of making it a better place to live. "Most of the people at the Chamber are fairly new and enthusiastic," he said. "New blood is a good thing. It's great to walk into a place where I can be excited every day. I can say to them, 'This is what I know; I'm kind of naïve maybe, but give me anything I'll do it.' It's very gratifying to be in an atmosphere where my boss is just as excited as I am about what's going on."

Stephens agreed 100 percent. "I've been here just over a year, and I'm in the middle of implementing several projects to grow our community," he said. "Max is a big part of that this summer, and I see U of O as a part of that bigger picture as well. I met with three students from Ozarks' Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) just a few days ago to start laying the groundwork for projects that might involve the U of O. I was impressed very much by those individuals."

Hilgendorf, who was recently awarded a $1,000 grant from the American Advertising Association, said one major goal he has for the fall is forming a student-based economic advisory committee which will report to both the Chamber and the Clarksville city council. "They are very interested in our doing this," he said. "Sometimes there's a kind of disconnect between the campus community and the Clarksville community, and this committee would help bridge that gap. There are 600-plus students at Ozarks, and the city wants to have our input in what they do. So I'm hoping to find five or six civically minded students who are willing to participate. I may approach SIFE to see if they would be interested in making this committee one of their projects."

What are his plans once he's finished with college? "That's what I'm trying to figure out," he said. "When people ask me what strategic communication is, and I say it's kind of a hybrid of marketing, advertising, event planning, and public relations. So what do I want to do with my life? Marketing, advertising, event planning, and public relations. My major is a very flexible and useful one, and I know I'll find my niche."