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Tuskegee University junior selected in Coca-Cola UNITED’s Annual 'Pay It Forward' Internship program

September 09, 2020

Contact:  Brittney Dabney, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

Nia Reed

A Tuskegee University undergraduate student had a chance to participate and benefit from an internship with Coca-Cola UNITED. The company’s annual ‘'Pay It Forward' Internship Program, is part of its commitment and support to regional historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), within the company’s six state footprint.

Nia Reed, a junior mechanical engineering major was one of five students selected from Coca-Cola’s Central Region. She says she was encouraged to participate in the program after hearing first-hand experiences from Tuskegee student, Zalkari “Zak” Thornton, who participated in the “Pay It Forward” program last year.

“I came across an advertisement with a picture of Zak, and he was representing the program, after which. I looked up the opportunity and learned what Coca-Cola was about and I decided to apply for the program,” she recalled.

The program now in its fifth year, was promoted actively across participating HBCU campuses and in area Wal-Mart locations. Coca-Cola reviewed the applications for the program, selecting 25 students total based on their standout applications. Traditionally, the program is a week-long, in person experience; however, this year due to COVID-19, students participated virtually.

“Although we will not be able to meet these students in person this year, we are excited to get to know this remarkable group of ‘Pay It Forward’ interns,” said John Sherman, President and CEO Coca-Cola Bottling Co. UNITED. “Our intent through the two-day program is to encourage these young adults and help enable them to further develop career goals as they plan for the next phase in life.”

The program aims to provide African American youth with opportunities to celebrate students' achievements and further their success. During the two-day development sessions, student’s experience a wide range of roles at Coca-Cola including sales, production, marketing, pricing, event planning, packaging, philanthropy, and community relations.

During the program one of the main goals is to teach the interns, how to go to work. The development sessions expose them to real-world work situations, including business practices and protocols, how to network, and other important skills that will prepare them for the job market.

Reed says her biggest takeaway from the program was having the opportunity to hear from Larry Thornton, one of Coca-Cola UNITED’s Board of Directors and author of “Why Not Win?”.

“My takeaway from his book is now my motto, "What do people see when they look at you? How people see you, dictates how they handle you," she noted.

Reed hopes to apply her degree and internship experience with Coca-Cola to her future career by paying it forward. After she graduates, she plans to pursue a masters in ocean engineering.

Following the end of the program Reed received a $1,000 stipend and a lifetime of Coca-Cola Ambassadorship.

To learn more the “Pay it Forward” program, visit

About Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED

Coca-Cola Bottling Company United, Inc., founded in 1902 and headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, is the second largest privately held Coca-Cola bottler in North America and the third largest bottler of      Coca-Cola products in the U.S.  Now with its fifth generation of family working in the business, Coca-Cola UNITED has approximately 10,000 associates located in more than 60 facilities across six southeastern states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee).  Historically significant franchises within our Coca-Cola UNITED family include Chattanooga, the world’s first Coca-Cola bottler; Atlanta, home of the worldwide Coca-Cola System; and Columbus, Georgia, development site of the original Coca-Cola formula.

Coca-Cola UNITED is engaged in the production, marketing and distribution of a diverse portfolio of leading sparkling (Coca-Cola®, Diet Coke®, Coke Zero Sugar®, Dr Pepper®, Sprite®, Fanta® and AHA®) and still (smartwater®, Dasani®, POWERADE®, BODYARMOR®, Fairlife®, Gold Peak®, Monster® and Minute Maid®) non-alcoholic brands under exclusive franchise agreements principally with The Coca-Cola Company® and Keurig Dr Pepper®.

For 118 years, Coca-Cola UNITED has remained true to its foundational core values of: Quality, Excellence, Integrity and Respect.  Local relationships, personalized customer service, and strong community engagement have been the foundation of our business for more than a century.  Each year, millions of dollars are invested in our local communities, supporting education, community development, sustainability and nonprofit organizations that empower and impact those in need.


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