Austin Gund, ’15, has dedicated much of his life to football, with hopes of playing in the NFL after graduation. But when practice is over and competitions come to a close, the offensive lineman takes time to consider his options for life off the field.
This summer, Gund had the chance to explore one possible path through the Jepson School of Leadership Studies internship program. Both of his parents got their professional start working for their local city government, and encouraged Gund to consider the same. After an interview with Richmond city’s chief administrative office, he was placed with the Richmond Police Department as an intern with Police Chief Ray Tarasovic.
Working for the chief gave Gund a number of chances to see leadership in action, from both the organizational perspective and the local government angle. He attended police department staff meetings and city planning meetings, sat in on ride-alongs with officers, and experienced the administrative side of the department.
“It’s been very fun and interesting,” he says. “Definitely a different dynamic than what most people get to see of the police department.”
Gund also focused on studying officer interactions in the community, particularly in the areas of police pursuits and racial bias. He researched trends in other cities, as well as training programs and policies to prevent and reduce occurrences in Richmond.
Some might be intimidated by such a project, but Gund jumped right in — thanks again to the guidance of his parents.
“I had a couple talks with my parents because they’ve both been in the business world before,” he says. “They said, ‘this is your opportunity to impress and really show off your research.’ So I just took some time to figure out what the chief wanted and what he was looking for. Once I got there, I was much more comfortable and confident in what I was doing.”
As a leadership studies major, Gund saw connections to his classroom work everywhere. Ride-alongs provided a real-life glimpse at the cycle of poverty he studied in a Justice and Civil Society class. The dynamics of organizational hierarchies were visible in the relationships between the chief, managers, and officers. And he saw how a leadership style that emphasizes community outreach and relationship building can create an environment of trust between citizens and officers.
“The chief has meetings with community leaders, civilians and non-sworn police employees,” he says. “He’ll try to figure out what their issues are and figure out a way to solve those problems and help them feel safer in their neighborhood. And the department does a lot outside strictly police work to increase their image. They’re trying to be a positive force to make a better city.”