Hospitality student uses leadership skills to snag White House internship

As a little girl enamored by the spectacle and pageantry of the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, Lindsay Ford never dreamed her fascination with big events would land her at the White House door. Yet it did, and Ford credits DePaul's School of Hospitality Leadership program with enabling her to journey to the South Lawn, just steps away from President Obama and the First Family.

"I would have never landed an internship at the White House if it weren't for DePaul," says Ford, who is scheduled to earn a Bachelor of Science in Business with a major in Hospitality Leadership this year.

DePaul Center
Ford applied for a White House internship while interning with the Chicago Business Travel Association (CBTA), a position she landed through DePaul last winter. Through CBTA, she attended a networking event where she met Laura Schwartz, the former White House Director of Events for the Clinton Administration. Schwartz encouraged the 22-year-old to follow her instinct to apply for the internship program. She never thought she'd hear back, but when she landed an interview she felt more hopeful. Weeks later she was packing her bags for the nation's capital.

"I'm so glad that I came here (DePaul)," says Ford, who grew up in Wheeling, Ill. "I'm super happy with the program and it was 100 percent the right decision."

Ford spent four months — January through May — this year working in the White House Office of Management and Administration. She was part of a four-person team that managed the White House internship program. In her role, Ford helped plan the weekly speaker series for the interns that consisted of lining up senior staffers from the Obama administration to speak. She also helped with recruiting interns for the White House staff by organizing information sessions and recruitment workshops around Washington D.C. And she coordinated professional development workshops for the internship program. Though her office was in the Eisenhower building, Ford was just steps away from the President on several occasions including the annual White House Easter Egg Hunt.

"It was at the annual Easter Egg roll, when I saw the President and the First Family coming out, standing on the South Lawn, that was the first moment I was like, 'This is really cool.'"

White House interns are unpaid, but are an important part of the White House staff, Ford says. According to Ford, the administration has interns in 16 different departments from the First Lady's office to the Presidential Correspondent's office. At the end of their sessions, interns get to have a photo taken with the President, which Ford says was one of the highlights of her work there.

"That was a defining moment. I was thinking, 'Oh My God, I just met the President.'" she says, laughing nervously. "It was just so inspiring being there. It made me more energized about giving back to my community and it's just really exciting to be in the midst of it all."

Ford, who won the DePaul School of Hospitality Leadership's 2013 Inspiration Award for her student leadership, says she feels so fortunate to have enrolled in the school, which opened in 2009 thanks to a gift from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. She says the program's dedicated director, Chris Roberts, and staff make it top-notch for students seeking leadership positions in the hospitality field. In addition, the school's location in the heart of downtown Chicago, one of the biggest tourist cities in the world, is a huge plus.

"This program has been more than I could have imagined," says Ford. "The director of the program is so involved with making the program great. Everyone is just really committed to helping the students. Chicago is also really excited for DePaul to have this hospitality program. When I'm at events and I meet people from the Chicago hotel industry and other companies, they are always so excited to talk to me about the program and to come and speak to students. It's exciting to see other people who are excited to see you in the program and hope to have you come work for their company."

So now that she's gone to the White House, interned in Chicago, been at the Four Seasons, what does Ford she dream of doing next in hospitality?

"Plan the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Day parade," she says, laughing. "I love large-scale events. When people look back on their childhood they always remember those large-scale events, the Thanksgiving Day parade or the ball dropping in New York. When you plan those events you're part of something bigger. You're helping people create great memories and I would love to do that."​​​