A dream internship: UNI student takes skills to the NFL

As Alex Crum walked across/into the indoor training facility of the Indianapolis Colts after a long day, a thought crossed his mind. “I can’t believe I’ve made it this far.”

The University of Northern Iowa graduate student had landed a dream internship this summer in the Colts’ athletic training program his internship in June and will continue through the start of training camp and into September. In his position, he works side-by-side with the Colts’ athletic training staff, getting hands-on experience taking previously injured players through rehabilitation treatments both on the massage table and in the weightroom, 

“I think I've found a true passion of mine, and it feels really good to see that I've chosen a path that I find happiness in,” Crum said. “My love of athletic training and building relationships with the players and helping them live better lives gave me all the energy I needed to work long hours.” 

In his months with the team, Crum has showcased the abilities and knowledge imparted by UNI’s athletic training program, which was the first accredited program of its kind in the state. That work stood out to the Colts.

“Alex was a valued member of our sports medicine team during this interesting time,” said Colts Assistant Athletic Trainer Kyle Davis. “He was a hard worker and never shied away from a new task whether it be in the training room or on the field.”

“It’s 100% time-consuming, but I go into every day in awe and grateful for the opportunity to work with an NFL team and possibly set myself up for a career later in life with a professional team,” Crum said. “Even if that never happens, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the memories I’ll make. It's an all-time great experience.”

Crum is one of many UNI students to earn internships with professional teams. Past students have interned with the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Phillies, among others. For Crum, he earned his spot on the Colts with the help of Mark Hecimovich, assistant professor of athletic training.

Hecimovich is no stranger of helping students find work with professional sports teams. While he was teaching in the psychology and exercise science program at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia, Hecimovich sent multiple students to internships with the Seattle Mariners.

When he arrived at UNI in 2015, he reached out to NFL teams to see if the process was similar. When he learned of Crum’s ambitions to work for a professional team, the two got to work crafting personalized cover letters and resumes for all 32 NFL teams.

“The Colts were the first team to give me an interview over the phone, and, right after, they told me if I wanted the position I could have it,” Crum said. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to do an internship with an NFL team.”

Crum entered the internship well prepared, thanks to the coursework from the athletic training program.

“The types of things that are required by the teams would be a really good knowledge of rehab techniques and modalities, as well as some manual techniques that we teach,” Hecimovich said. “That first year, we really hit the students hard with those types of courses. So, he’s prepared to go in and do this internship.”

Crum said the program’s coursework helped him use his skills with confidence.

“I can walk up to one of the staff here and say ‘I know this, can I try it?’ I didn’t have that confidence before,” Crum said. “UNI’s professors do a great job preparing students for the field they’re going into and giving them the confidence to succeed in their future.”

Crum is part of the athletic training program’s second cohort. Job placement and graduation rates of the program is near 100%, said Kelli Snyder, the athletic training program director, and Crum is far from the first student to get hands-on experience in their desired field.

Students receive hands-on learning in the classroom in areas of injury prevention, clinical evaluation and diagnosis, immediate care, treatment, rehabilitation and reconditioning, organization and administration, and professional responsibility. 

Students also receive a multitude of clinical experiences in settings such as high schools, collegiate athletics, physician's clinics, minor league hockey, outpatient rehabilitation clinics and free medical clinics. Graduates of the program go on to pursue careers in high schools, orthopedic physician clinics, collegiate athletics, performing arts, industrial settings and outpatient rehabilitation clinics, among others.