Zena Conway is not only an intern in NASCAR's Diversity Internship Program. She is an intern in the department that makes the program a reality.
A spring 2008 graduate of Johnson C. Smith University, Conway is one of two interns in the program with connections to that school. She is working in NASCAR's corporate headquarters in Daytona, Fla. Mike Press, a rising junior at JCSU, is working for Motorsports Authentics, a distributor of NASCAR merchandise located in Concord.
Conway, president and valedictorian of the class of 2008, was a Golden Bulls cheerleader, and she also ran track for one year.
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Last fall, she was invited to participate in Lowe's Motor Speedway's mentorship program, in which she shadowed various staffers over three days. She found out about NASCAR's internship program during her sophomore year but didn't act on it until after the mentoring program.
Conway was accepted as an intern in the spring and appointed to the Diversity Affairs department. It coordinates tours of colleges by NASCAR representatives and the racing sanctioning body's attendance at conferences on civil rights and Hispanic issues.
Conway plays a key role in the department's communication with the program's other 18 internships, assigned to different sites around the country, by publishing a newsletter for them. Her other responsibilities include conducting diversity research for other NASCAR initiative programs and compiling information for its other diversity partnerships.
A Raleigh native, Conway insists that when she told her father she was going to college in Charlotte, she also told him she would end up working for NASCAR. He skeptically laughed it off, but Conway said she was “dead serious.”
In the fall, Conway will attend graduate school at Howard University to pursue a master's degree in mass communication and media studies. She wants to become a multicultural marketing consultant.
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Press, a sports management major from Mount Vernon, N.Y., came to Johnson C. Smith after three years at Charlotte's Johnson and Wales University. Press said the internship with Motorsports Authentics was only the latest bit of good fortune he's encountered as a JCSU student.
After an on-campus presentation by Carolina Panthers staff member Dee Dee Mills in March, Press introduced himself to her and kept in touch via e-mail. Mills eventually invited Press to assist the team's media relations department on NFL draft day.
Press said he's been invited to help the department on game days this fall, too.
The first he heard of the internship program, Press said, was through e-mails from one of his professors. He glanced at it and promptly saved it, examining it a little more closely a few weeks later.
Being unfamiliar with NASCAR, he was a bit apprehensive about pursuing the internship, but he had a change of heart.
“People have told me that if you get a job with NASCAR, that everything is taken care of,” Press said.
Pay is included with the position at Motorsports Authentics, but Press said he would have worked for free just to gain the experience. Plus, he was planning on staying in Charlotte this summer anyway, working his same job as a fitness floor supervisor and teaching gymnastics at a local YMCA.