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HBCU interns share experiences of training at Coca-Cola UNITED  

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From left: Gabrielle Williams and Pablo Vallejo, Stillman College; Pam Cook, Director of Multicultural Marketing and Community Affairs at Coca-Cola UNITED; Kendarius Hale-Youngblood, Talladega College and Brianna Jones, Miles College. (Erica Wright Photo, The Birmingham Times)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times 

Interns with Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED’s ‘Pay It Forward’ program closed out their week at the company with a presentation that covered a range of lessons from building relationships to learning the importance of the smallest details.

The “Pay It Forward” program, in its fourth year, provides African-American youth with opportunities to celebrate achievements and further their success.

During a closing ceremony at Coca-Cola UNITED headquarters in Birmingham on Friday, students in the program talked about what they learned. 

“The little details of everything matter like how everything runs. . . [it] isn’t as simple as it seems and I also learned . . . about networking and everything it takes to run a successful company such as Coca-Cola,” said Gabrielle Williams, a junior majoring in biology on a pre-med track at Stillman College. “Everybody [interns] worked with this week, took the time and sat with us to teach us every bit of what goes into this company. If you don’t understand what you do, how can you do it to the best of your ability? They really taught me every little bit of what goes into this company and this has been a great experience.” 

Coca-Cola HBCU Interns give a presentation at Coca-Cola headquarters in Birmingham. From left: Pablo Vallejo and Gabrielle Williams, Stillman College; Brianna Jones, Miles College and Kendarius Hale-Youngblood, Talladega College. (Erica Wright Photo, The Birmingham Times)

In April, the company reviewed applications for the program through participating Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and selected 25 students. From the Alabama region, the eight chosen were: Bryant Williams and Jada Jamison-Belser, Alabama State University; Brianna Jones, Miles College; Gabrielle Williams and Pablo Vallejo, Stillman College; Simone Brown and Kendarius Hale-Youngblood, Talladega College and Zalkari Thornton, Tuskegee University.

Hale-Youngblood, Gabrielle Williams, Vallejo, and Jones spent their internship at Coca-Cola’s Birmingham site while the others worked at Coca-Cola’s Montgomery site.

Pam Cook, Director of Multicultural Marketing and Community Affairs at Coca-Cola UNITED, said she was proud of what the students learned in just a week. 

“It’s really great because each of the students are so passionate about their schools and it’s been great to listen to them introduce themselves to people because they say ‘I am and I attend’ and that’s so powerful because they represent themselves and their schools well,” said Cook.

“We couldn’t do this without them and it’s been our pleasure to have them here this week and we look forward to the future because we know they are going to do so well. They have all the skills sets, more than enough talent, more than enough know-how and a Coca-Cola family that is going to be here to support them no matter what,” she said. 

The experience is one the interns said they will remember.

“I learned how the marketing is done, the sales operations, I learned about accounting and how they apply different strategies in different markets and locations and in-store and out-store sales, it was just a wonderful experience,” said Vallejo, a junior and business administration major at Stillman. “Coca-Cola is a wonderful company that helped me to understand more what they do. As a business major . . . now I have a better understanding of what I was taught in school. Everything I read in my marketing and management books, now I have a better understanding of what it is.”

Jones, who is studying criminal justice and is a sophomore at Miles, said what she learned at Coca-Cola will help her in the long run as she wants to be an entrepreneur. 

“This has had an influence in my life and sowing a seed in my life of how I want to build a business and have a good team on my side,” she said. 

For more information on Coca-Cola UNITED’s ‘Pay It Forward’ internship program, visit www.cocacolaunited.com.