It is an honor to score an invite to the Aspen Ideas Festival, where participants like Katie Couric and retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal gather in the Colorado mountains for a week of debate on issues ranging from democracy to the societal roles of professional athletes. 

Robbie Deveny ’13 was at the festival this past summer, but he wasn’t there as an invited guest—he was working behind the scenes as a conference associate and food and beverage banquet associate.  

A biochemistry major and Colorado resident, Deveny had originally planned to spend the summer at the University of Colorado medical school. When other students snapped up the positions, he scrambled to find a last-minute summer job. His childhood interest in cooking led him to a job with Dolce Resorts, a conglomerate of conference center hotels.

The Dolce Resort in Aspen Meadows, Colo., hosts a variety of big-name conferences throughout the year. Deveny worked in the resort’s restaurant and assisted at events like the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Food & Wine Classic, the Aspen Musical Festival, the Aspen Security Forum, and Fortune Magazine’s technology conference. 

Working 40 to 90 hours a week setting up spaces, catering, and waiting tables at events, Deveny said the work was physically strenuous and not always glamorous. 

“People would get very upset and had short fuses,” said Deveny. “The chefs were very egotistical sometimes.”

The highlights of Deveny’s experience were events like the Ideas Festival and the Food & Wine Classic, where he rubbed shoulders with celebrities and industry leaders. 

At one breakfast, he met actor Stanley Tucci and Olympic athlete Michelle Kwan. 

“I’m still certain Michelle Kwan winked at me,” Deveny said. 

“It was also fun buddying up to the Israeli Secret Service agents who were protecting former Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. They were in disguise, so you had to try and tease their true identities out of them.”

During the Ideas Festival, the Supreme Court issued its ruling on healthcare reform. A panel moderated by Charlie Rose that included New York Times columnist David Brooks and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle convened to discuss live updates, and Deveny heard it all as he made his coffee rounds. 

At the Food & Wine Classic, Deveny assisted with set-up and manned celebrity chef Mario Batali’s booth, serving sausage to the likes of Fabio, who complimented Deveny on the food. 

Having dreamt of being a chef from an early age, Deveny was in awe of meeting legends like Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio, Jose Andres, Andrew Zimmerman, and Marcus Samuelsson. He was less impressed by their fashion choices. 

“Mario was wearing ugly shorts and Crocs,” he noted. 

Deveny emphasized the high-stress and fast-paced nature of his job, which one may not have gleaned from his job title alone. 

“It was competitive to get a position like mine,” Deveny said. “There were administrative interns working with the Aspen Institute, which runs the Ideas Festival. I had to work many more hours than they did, but I got paid eight dollars an hour more and still got to hear everything they heard. However, my positions will not look as good on paper unless I tell the full story.”

Nonetheless, Deveny finished his summer with some marketable skills and tricks of the trade, like how to make a great cup of coffee. 

“I’ve never made more coffee in my life—I made 90 gallons of coffee one day,” Deveny said. “It’s not a good idea to just brew two caffeine batches, label one decaf and put it out anyway. People get heart trouble.”

Summer lessons were not constrained to coffee protocol. 

“I learned to be a better listener, because sometimes I can get carried away and be a little mouthy,” Deveny said. “I’d tell myself this is probably the only time I’ll hear these people, some of the most powerful in the world, speak, and I have to take in everything they say.”

Although an unexpected field of summer work, Deveny now counts his failure to secure a research position as a blessing in disguise. 

“Not getting an internship was a valuable process because I got to know the people that I’d look for jobs with anyway and learned about how to tell your story as a college student,” said Deveny.

He recommends that students who are having trouble lining up a summer internship expand their searches to other types of jobs but cautions them to take an active interest in the day-to-day responsibilities of any summer job. 

“You have to know what you’re in for,” Deveny added. “You have to make it the experience you want it to be.”

As strange as it may sound, working in food services confirmed Deveny’s professional goal of becoming a doctor. He said being surrounded by so many high-powered experts, moguls and world leaders gave him inspiration and motivation for his last year of undergraduate studies. 

“It definitely made me excited to finish my education on a high note,” said Deveny. “I like being in very intellectually stimulating environments, places that make you think. Hearing people’s back-stories, they weren’t all Ivy League or top of their class, and not all of them knew what they wanted to do out of college.”