Kennedy Riles 2020Step into the Collat Welcome Center and you’ll find Kennedy Riles behind the front desk, answering phone calls, scheduling meetings and posting to the center’s social media pages.

Since 2018, Riles has been a fixture in the Welcome Center, helping visitors get where they need to go and answering student questions. Now, as the management student navigates her senior year, she’s thriving as an intern, college student and student worker amidst the global coronavirus pandemic.

Riles recently completed an internship with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City this summer, a prestigious opportunity offered to only a handful of students each semester. From May to August, Riles served as an analyst intern, pitching solutions to improve the onboarding process across all 12 branches and learning more about the opportunities to grow within the Federal Reserve.

At first the experience was scary. Riles recalls feeling nervous to move to a new city during a pandemic. “I was worried that if I got sick, who would be there to help me?” she says. She relied on frequent conversations with Andreia Stechmann and Rita Stewart-Hampton in the Collat Career Center to quell her fears.

Stewart-Hampton and Stechmann, Collat’s career center director and assistant director of employee engagement respectively, encouraged Riles to take the risk. “They reminded me that I was capable and that the internship would be a fantastic experience,” Riles says. “They instilled in me a sense of confidence and assured me that they believed in my ability to successfully complete my internship.”

Riles says she felt at home immediately after arriving in in Kansas City. The Huntsville, Ala., native dove into her work projects and enjoyed exploring Kansas City in her off time.

At the end of her internship, Riles presented recommendations for improvements within the bank as part of the Federal Reserve’s annual Intern Innovation Challenge. Her recommendation was to hold a virtual fundraiser in partnership with the annual United Way campaign. Her suggestions – to host a virtual bingo competition, a virtual 5k and a gaming challenge – won second place among the other interns’ recommendations.

She says the Federal Reserve enacted some of her recommendations.

Kennedy RilesNow that’s she back at UAB, Riles is incorporating her internship experiences into her position as student worker in both the Collat Welcome Center and the Collat Career Center. “One of the biggest takeaways from my time at the Federal Reserve was learning to be self-sufficient and have a sense of autonomy,” Riles says.

Although Riles’s workload has shifted during the pandemic, it hasn’t slowed down. In addition to her academics and her job as a student worker in the business school, Riles performs with Birmingham’s Divenire Winter Guard, a team dedicated to color guard performance art.

“If there was a show dedicated to winter guard, it’d be more popular than Dance Moms,” says Riles, who has competed in winter guard since freshman year of high school. She hopes the pandemic won’t cut this coming season short as it did last year.

So far it hasn’t. But whatever comes her way this winter, Riles knows that she’s ready to tackle it.