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Graceland Alumnus Provides a Decade of Internships



August 7, 2017

Ken and Cindy McClain with their 2017 intern students

For the past 11 years, Ken and Cindy McClain have generously offered McClain internships to well over 100 Graceland students, providing them hands-on experience with their businesses on the Independence, Missouri, town square. The partnership has become a refined course in entrepreneurial endeavors benefitting and influencing Graceland students with experiential learning.

The McClains openly share their business sense, their philosophy of life and even their home with the students over the summer. The internships offer a monetary stipend with additional incentives, lodging, and a curriculum for business and life. After 11 years, the McClains have transformed the Independence town square along with a generation of Graceland students.

Ken and Cindy have the process for the internships down pat. Their Monday morning meeting around the office conference table starts the week off with an organized plan and the brainstorming of ideas with agendas presented on the large white board. Ken meets with the students on Mondays and Fridays, and Cindy is there throughout the week managing more than a dozen of their varied businesses and keeping the interns on task. A guidebook for the internship is provided with expectations and rules of conduct kept current with yearly reviews.

Each summer, the interns also receive the small book, “Illusions.” The book was given to Ken when he was a Graceland student by professor Paul Edwards. “I think that it has been helpful, explained Ken. “It’s a fable about a modern-day messiah who tries to teach people the essence of life. Probably my favorite saying from the book is ‘Argue for your limitations and sure enough they’re yours.’” The students discuss passages from the book in the morning meetings and it serves as a devotion guide.

The students are grouped into teams and work together on everything from the advertising, marketing, cost comparisons, social media campaigns, management, strategy and reports for eight weeks during the summer. “Every summer the interns give an infusion of energy and creativity to the Independence town square,” explains Ken. “The interns are drawing up plans for a future flower shop, a barber shop, a carousel, a sustainability center for recycling, and they also have a team working on event planning.”

Current summer intern projects include:

  • Polly’s Pop, a revived 1923 soda pop business bottling up old fashioned root beer, cream soda, black cherry and more
  • El Pico Mexican Restaurant, offering fresh and perfectly prepared traditional Mexican cuisine
  • Diamond Bowl and Billiards, a new space with a bar and plenty of pool tables attached to the historic bowling alley
  • Wild About Harry, a men’s store that pays homage to Harry Truman by offering a selection of books, sports paraphernalia, men’s accessories and local history items
  • Moonlight Movies, a free projected movie once a week outside of the Pharaoh Theatre encouraging community relations

The interns have a unique opportunity to participate in a variety of businesses because the McClains recognize the importance of internships. Ken is interested in connecting colleges to the workforce, doing more to communicate the meaning of postsecondary credentials, and assessing their meaning in the labor market.

Ken and Cindy said they keep providing the internships and offering their time because they believe in the process. “We’re able to touch people with an intimate experience in which they can see the reality of opening and running a small business and what it takes to do it on the ground as opposed to some philosophical standpoint,” Ken shared. “Hopefully we are creating some entrepreneurs out of the program.”


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