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PEAK Institute Students Gain Work Experience at Sea

On Jan. 20, 2023, five students from the PEAK Institute sailed away with Sixthman Group for a professional adventure as interns on a cruise with comedy team Dude Perfect. The three-night Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) cruise departed from Miami and sailed to Nassau, Bahamas. 

PEAK's relationship with Sixthman Group, an Atlanta-based company that creates vacation experiences, started in fall 2022 with PEAK students designing their own cruise as a class project. They met with Sixthman staff to learn about the different tasks involved, created their budgets, developed a theme and presented their cruises to Sixthman staff for feedback. 

As the relationship between PEAK and Sixthman continued to develop and students met with other professionals at the company, CEO and HIES parent Anthony Diaz offered the opportunity for PEAK students to serve as interns on board the January cruise. Previously, Sixthman took on only college students as interns. 

Heather Bradford, director of the PEAK Institute, and Daniel Forrester, associate director, jumped at the chance and selected five students to participate: Holden Culbertson '24, Galen Kilburn '24, Carter McMillen '24, Haidee Quechol-Flores '23 and Ella Vanderver '24. Ms. Bradford and Mr. Forrester served as chaperones. All were provided with staterooms, official shirts and ID badges. Students were added to an online task portal to receive their work assignments each day. Costs for the trip were covered by Sixthman. 

On the cruise, students assisted with games and activities for the 937 children and their families on board, managed photo sessions, shadowed different staff members, attended various team meetings and interviewed the general manager of the Norwegian Pearl. Students assisted with some preparations for Dude Perfect as well. They met with about 25 different managers for NCL, each with different areas of oversight. 

Sixthman set up offices on the ship to serve as home base for organizing all the events taking place during the cruise. Students were impressed by all the calendars, charts and lists that filled the meeting space. Some of the students had cruised with their families previously while others had not. 

"I have a different appreciation for all the behind-the-scenes work," Ella said. 

"It takes a lot of time to put it all together," Haidee said. "It doesn't just happen." 

And students quickly learned that plans often need to be adjusted. They took note of the calm demeanor of managers who had to make decisions on the fly. 

"Sometimes things didn't go as planned and they had to change course," Carter said. "It's a lot of work." 

"The cruise was a great full-circle experience for the students," Ms. Bradford said. "They could see an authentic task in action." 

"They were able to see what they had done on paper in person," Mr. Forrester said. 

"It was clear from the beginning of the Peak and Sixthman engagement in the classroom, at the Sixthman office presentation and on board the Dude Perfect event that the HIES students fully embodied our company's philosophy of going above and beyond to fully soak in the experience, learn as much as they could and pour themselves into putting in that extra effort to look after others and each other," Anthony Diaz, CEO of Sixthman Festivals at Sea, said. "PEAK is an incredibly special program as are these students. I’m excited to watch them shine as they take on all the adventures life has in store for them."

Testing the internship opportunity with five students this year worked out well," Ms. Bradford noted. Plans are under discussion to take a cruise again next year potentially with even more PEAK students.  

— Christina Mimms