Alumni Spotlight: Seizing Opportunities to Gain Hands on Experience

JMU alumna, Melissa “Mel” Medel (formerly Peale), graduated from James Madison in the spring of 2013 with a BS in SMAD: Corporate Communications and a HRD minor. Mel is from Virginia Beach, VA and currently lives in Chesapeake, VA. Mel’s experiential learning opportunities, both in and out of JMU, helped to shape her career path landing her an exciting and dynamic role at Operation Smile.

Tell me about your current role and your job functions.

Mel and Dr. Magee - Vietnam Nov 2014I am currently the Executive Assistant to the President and Co-Founder of Operation Smile, but do mostly project management for initiatives that stem from the Office of the Co-Founders. The best way to describe my daily duties is to say I remain extremely flexible and wear a variety of different feathers in my cap. On a given day, I could be overseeing data collections and moving parts related to an international DNA study to find the causes of cleft lips and cleft palates, managing the Instagram handle for our Student Programs department, working with high-end donors, event planning, assisting in disaster relief efforts, preparing reports, and so on!

What experiential learning opportunities (internships/externships) did you have while you were in undergrad?

During my time as a JMU student, I would seize any opportunity I could to get real world experience. While also having a part-time job, I served as the Recruiting Services Student Media Specialist in CAP (Employer Relations & Recruiting), was a Chapter Advisor for HerCampus Media – acting as the liaison between 12 different college campuses at HerCampus Headquarters in Boston, MA, and was a member of the MTV Insights Program – researching and reporting on-the-cusp trends related to our generation.

How did these experiences prepare you for your current role and shape the way you look at your job now?  

The most useful part was learning how to manage my time effectively while completing various tasks. I also learned how to manage different personalities, which I believe has made me a more understanding and patient person – which is very important with working with such a large international organization.

What are some of the opportunities you have had with your current job outside of the office (travel, conferences, speaking engagements, etc.)?

IMG_6386I have been lucky enough to have several great experiences during my year and half at Operation Smile. In May 2014, I went to NYC to participate in our annual NY Gala, which featured many celebrities  – and raised $1,000,000 in one night, which helped support our medical missions worldwide.

This past November, I got to visit USC/CHLA and see their facilities, and completed training related to the International Family Study (DNA study) that I help manage from Operation Smile headquarters. After training, I went to Vietnam where I participated in my first Operation Smile medical mission. It IMG_6444was such an eye opening experience and has been one of the most influential parts on my life thus far.

From holding a part-time job as an undergrad to interning with MTV, Mel shows us how each experience is a learning opportunity. Experiential learning helps students to not only gain applicable work experience but gain hard and soft skills that can only be mastered outside of the classroom. These experiences help prepare and shape students for the working world while giving them a new perspective on all kinds of industries and job functions.

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