An avid sports fan, Gina Vekkos was able to secure an internship last summer with the Schaumburg Boomers, a professional independent baseball team that plays in the Frontier League. There was just one minor problem – baseball wasn’t a sport that Vekkos knew much about.
However, with the encouragement of a professor in the hospitality management degree program, Vekkos’ major, she decided to take the opportunity. And now, a year after completing the internship, Vekkos will start a full-time gig with the Boomers just two days after walking across the stage during May’s commencement ceremony.
“I have to give Dr. (Mauro) Palmero (associate teaching professor) all of the credit for encouraging me to take the internship a year ago,” Vekkos said. “I really didn’t know if I wanted to take the opportunity, as I knew nothing about baseball and didn’t know how I would fit in. It ended up being such a fun and rewarding experience that I’ll never forget.
“And I’m thrilled to have a full-time job with the team. It’s going to be a busy summer, as the season starts really soon. I graduate Saturday (May 14), drive home on Sunday and start my job on Monday.”
Vekkos’ internship focused on promotions and merchandising. Her full-time role with the Boomers will be as an account executive, where she will be involved in ticket sales and venue management.
“I’ll be working with groups who want to use our space, such as a family that wants to host a birthday party or a business that wants to host a corporate event,” Vekkos said. “I’ll also be working to sell our various ticket packages. It’s independent baseball, so I’ll also be doing a little bit of everything to help out, which I’m excited about. I’m going to get a complete look at all of the aspects related to running a sports venue, which is going to be incredibly valuable.”
Vekkos, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, transferred to the University of Missouri after completing her associate’s degree at the College of DuPage, a community college in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. She chose the hospitality management degree at Mizzou because of her desire to work with people.
“I’ve always been good with people,” Vekkos said. “When I was looking at degrees, my mom told me to pursue something fun, which I thought was a great idea. I’ve always loved sports and entertainment, so I started looking into ways I could be a part of those industries. Hospitality management gave me an opportunity to do just that.”
Along with Palmero, Vekkos said Amanda Alexander, an assistant teaching professor, also made an impact on her during her time at MU. She said both professors helped guide her through the ups and downs of college.
“I started my hospitality management degree right when the pandemic was shutting the entertainment industry down,” Vekkos said. “My family obviously asked if this was a degree that I really wanted to pursue. I think we all saw how valuable those entertainment experiences were when we didn’t get to participate in them during the pandemic, so I knew I was in the right place.
“Dr. Palmero and Dr. Alexander also made the decision to stay in the degree very easy. They helped me so much and have been so supportive every step of the way.”
Vekkos was a member of the Business Careers in Entertainment (BCE) organization and Eta Sigma Delta during her time at MU. She gained hands-on hospitality experience through jobs with Willie’s and Addison’s as well.
“Working at Willie’s and Addison’s really gave me a behind-the-scenes look at the hospitality industry,” Vekkos said. “It was really interesting because what I was learning in class crossed over to my jobs. I was always super busy, but I really got a lot out of those opportunities.”
Vekkos said she will definitely miss Mizzou – and is thankful for her time in Columbia.
“Graduating is bittersweet for sure,” Vekkos said. “I’m going to miss MU so much. I didn’t think I was going to be a fan of attending such a huge university – but I definitely loved the atmosphere at Mizzou. I’m excited for the future but it’s tough to leave.”