From campus to corporate: an alumna's adventure as an Amazon intern
June 13, 2023
During the summer of 2022, Taylor Whitehurst flew across the country to the vibrant city of Seattle to intern with Amazon. A new city with new faces meant a new lifestyle for Whitehurst. But, there was one constant: her passion for writing and communications.
During her time as a public relations intern for Amazon, Whitehurst solidified the notion of her dream job — working in corporate communications while representing big companies.
Whitehurst is a 2023 graduate of Virginia Tech's School of Communication. Following graduation, Whitehurst returned to Amazon as a full-time employee in Arlington, Virginia.
During her time on campus, she held a diverse range of positions at the university. In social organizations, she served as the president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council that oversees all nine of the university’s African-American Greek organizations and held the positions of vice president and social media chair for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
On campus, Whitehurst sat on the board of the Order of the Gavel with other campus leaders to educate students on leadership opportunities and to serve as a student voice for campus activities that enhance student life. As a resident advisor and student resident well-being leader in East Campbell Hall, Whitehurst worked to ensure the welfare of first-year students by managing supportive events. In addition to these responsibilities, Whitehurst served as an intern for the Black College Institute at Virginia Tech where she worked for the Student Opportunity & Achievement Resources Program in which students can receive holistic coaching, advocacy, academic support, and financial assistance.
How did you land the Amazon internship?
Whitehurst: I had no expectations. It was snowing outside in January 2022, and nobody wanted to hang out with me, so I decided to apply for internships. I went on Handshake, and it just so happens that Amazon was on my front page, so I applied. Two weeks later, I got an email for an invitation to interview. To give myself something to look forward to, I did my interview on Valentine's Day. I found out March 1 of last year that I got the internship.
What projects were assigned to you?
Whitehurst: The team that I worked on was the Economic and Community Impact Team. This team focuses on all of the positive investments that Amazon makes with their money.
During the three months I was there, I was in charge of a couple projects. One project was located in Atlanta where Amazon was doing a satellite media tour. In one Amazon warehouse, they have a disaster relief hub that has a million different supplies ready to go in the case of emergencies, kind of like FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). My team was in charge of setting up the warehouse for news reporters to come in and we did back-to-back news interviews to spread the word.
I also helped with permitting in a project called Pink Elephant which is a Seattle landmark. Amazon helped refurbish it, and it was donated to Amazon to put on their campus. Additionally, my final task was a freestyle project where I proposed adjustments and recommendations of what Amazon could implement in the future.
What new skills, techniques or knowledge did you gain from the internship?
Whitehurst: On day one, my manager asked me what skills I wanted to learn, to which I told him that I’ve never worked with the media and the press. He gave me the opportunity to work on a variety of projects where I pitched different stories and personally called reporters.
I also learned how to write in a professional manner. I’ve mastered college writing, but the actual industry requires a distinct form of writing: short and concise, no wordy material. This was a challenge for me because I like to write like I talk; I'm a chatty writer. By the end of the summer, I saw much improvement in trying to figure out how to say less, but offer more. I built a habit of asking myself, “How can I say this in one sentence as opposed to three?”
What did you find most beneficial about this experience?
Whitehurst: The most beneficial part of my internship was learning how to examine PR in a practical manner. The PR program at Virginia Tech teaches a wide variety of skill sets and there’s so much to learn from, but being able to directly apply these skills and determine what works and what doesn’t was so insightful. I got to see the concepts that I learned in action which was impressive.
In general, this internship taught me how to conduct myself in a professional manner in all aspects of my life. It’s totally different from college. I was by myself — I had to figure out how to get to work every day, how to navigate professional spaces, how to balance my life in a new city, how to get from one airplane to the next. There was one time I was stranded in the Detroit airport and I had to sprint across multiple gates to get to my plane. I got a gist of the real world and what it’s like being an adult.
What concepts did you apply to your work that you learned in courses that you took in the School of Communication?
Whitehurst: There were different aspects in the courses I took in the past four years that I had to apply to my work, but my internship was centered on writing, so the communications and public relations writing courses gave me a good foot in the door. Research is also a huge part of PR, so learning and developing ways to write in accordance to research has helped a lot. I had to research current events and go the extra mile to learn more about my clients.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your internship and why?
Whitehurst: Before this internship, someone asked me what I knew about Amazon. Well, I know I buy stuff almost every week and I know that people sell stuff, but I had no idea of the certain projects and campaigns Amazon executes.
It was rewarding to directly experience and be a part of Amazon’s positive impact to the community. It was fulfilling to see the variety of charities Amazon supports for the communities that they’re in. In Seattle, for example, they have huge buildings that they made into homeless shelters. They also have a blog that has a wide variety of people and employees sharing how much Amazon has helped them. Learning about all the good deeds Amazon does and what they do for people gave me a new perspective.
What do you find appealing about returning to Amazon as a full-time employee?
Whitehurst: Definitely the work culture. Everyone there made me feel very welcome and it wasn’t uptight. I didn’t feel like a secluded intern where I was required to finish a bunch of paperwork by the end of the day. I felt like a person, and the employees there really focused on my growth. Having an uplifting environment in the professional field makes me eager to go back and work again.
What advice would you offer to students in the School of Communication looking for an internship?
Whitehurst: My first piece of advice is to start as early as possible, but don't stress about it. It’s important to get as much experience as you can as an undergraduate student because those experiences give you something to talk about in interviews. Some people are academically successful, but when asked about a time they were a leader, it’s crickets. That’s why it’s important to bring something to the table and have skills you can talk about. As long as you’re consistent with your intentions, like building your resume and making your name known around campus, opportunities will come to you.
Second, make sure to utilize what Virginia Tech provides because they give maximal support to their students. Reach out to Career and Professional Development for a broad perspective of your profession. Go to Handshake and resume workshops that the School of Communication provides to learn how to refine your profile and application.
Lastly, don’t limit yourself. If you like a company, apply to work for them. A lot of people always assume that they could never get an internship at a big company. Yes, you can. It’s so common for people to distrust themselves before even taking action. Don’t count yourself out!
Written by Jessica Kim, student writer for the School of Communication