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Matt Maguire interned for the Cubs this summer

RST student Matt Maguire talks about his alternative internship

Students in the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois have had to adjust their internships because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Periodically, we will speak with them about how those changes have affected their summer plans and potentially career paths. Matt Maguire was supposed to work for the Chicago Cubs in their premier services department in Chicago, but instead was part of the inaugural Illini RST Undergraduate Consulting (IRUC) program, created by RST department head Carla Santos and clinical assistant professor Mike Raycraft. He talked to AHS communications about his experience.

Matt Maguire, a senior in the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism in the College of Applied Health Sciences, loves baseball, especially the Chicago Cubs. So he was eager to begin his internship with the Cubbies for a second year this summer, working in their premier services department in Chicago.

Then, the world stopped. COVID-19, which entered our consciousness in January, was acknowledged as a pandemic in mid-March and resulted in a shutdown of most industries beyond the most essential. Baseball's spring training was halted March 14, just two weeks before planned Opening Day. 

Maguire knew what was happening, and that his internship being in peril was among the least of his worries. That didn't temper his disappointment.

"I had to take that time realizing, 'OK, there's not really a spot for me right now. They're definitely not worried about me right now when there's no baseball going on,'" he said. "So it took a while, but I was finally coming to grips with that as it was coming down to the end. OK. This really isn't going to happen."

Maguire needed an internship to graduate, as do all RST students. Luckily, RST department head Carla Santos and clinical assistant professor Mike Raycraft collaborated to create the RST Undergraduate Consulting (IRUC) program. IRUC is an opportunity for graduating RST students to connect with industry partners and agencies to provide pro bono, (and remote) consultation, and report on a variety of special topics. The students work with organizations, such as the Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder and Niagara Falls, in three-week cycles and they have a deliverable product at the end of that cycle. Each student must complete two cycles, and the program runs through July 31.

For Maguire, although he had to work remotely, the IRUC still gave him a chance to work with the Cubs. Grouped with two other students, Maguire worked under Megan Gaesor, manager of event operations for the Cubs and an RST alum, working on marketing research.

"It was kind of, 'How are we going to bring fans back to Wrigley in a safe way? How are we going to have staff feel safe coming back to Wrigley?,'" Maguire said. "And then also, what type of events that we could put on at Wrigley Field during that time because right now it's just really an empty space. So they needed to find ways to use Wrigley Field, and they asked us to kind of do some research and figure out what people would want to see what was feasible for them to do."

Maguire and his fellow interns communicated via text each day, with the project due to Gaesor at the end of the three weeks, and he emailed Gaesor once or twice a week. Ideas included using the marquee outside of Wrigley Field as a message-delivery system for local charities, as well as for thanking first-responders for their efforts fighting COVID-19.

"We came up with ideas like having a high school showcase (at Wrigley) for a lot of the (high school) players that had the season canceled because of the coronavirus," he said. "So it would just be a nice way to get their recruiting a push, as well as having the local community in Illinois feel like the Cubs are really reaching out to them and supporting them in their endeavors."

Maguire said the plan he delivered to Gaesor was well-received, and as of June 19, he had finished the first cycle and had moved on to working with another RST alum, Mark Thomas, longtime western district director for State Parks of New York, which includes Niagara Falls.

Maguire describes himself as a positive person, and sees the bright side of this alternative internship.

"I'm definitely more open-minded than I was before," he said, before adding that he still wants to work in baseball. "But now I've come to realize there's so many different ways that you can really get involved and still learn skills in a different firm that can go ahead and make you better as a person and as a worker and that you can bring to really the organization."

Still, there is no doubt Maguire missed what he was looking forward to about his traditional internship.

"I'm a hands-on person. I like doing stuff. I like moving around all day.  I'm not really doing much, but it's still fun. And I've had a really good time doing it, but I do miss the hands on experience."

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