Landing the right internship can help college students gain valuable real-world experience, make connections with professionals in the field, build their resumes, and, in some cases, even lead to future employment.
Many students at Penn State Harrisburg made the most of their summer breaks by getting a head start on their careers through a variety of internships. Here’s a look at some of their experiences.
When Ashon Calhoun, a communications major, attended a career fair at the University Park campus, he brought his camera along and headed right for the booth for broadcasting company Hearst Television. There, a conversation about photography helped him make connections that led him to a fellowship and internship at an area TV station.
At the suggestion of a veteran’s representative at Hearst, Calhoun, a member of the U.S. Army National Guard, applied for — and received — a prestigious fellowship from the Emma Bowen Foundation, an organization that works to place students of color in internships at media and tech companies as a way of promoting diversity in those industries. About 200 students from across the U.S. are selected.
Through the fellowship, he was placed at a paid internship with WGAL, a television station in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he’s spent most of the summer trying out a variety of news business positions — getting a taste of everything from news research to reporting in the field to direction and production.
“It’s been a great experience. I learned a lot about what I wanted to do but, more importantly, about what I didn’t want to do,” Calhoun said. “It’s expanded my perspective on that. I found that I kind of like being behind the camera a little more than being in front of it.”
As an Emma Bowen Foundation Fellow, Calhoun also attended conferences and networking events each month along with the other fellows. He’s met people from around the country and from many news and entertainment companies, he said, joking that his LinkedIn list has never been so large.
“A huge thing they opened up is connections,” he said.
Brennan Quigley describes himself as having “hit the jackpot” when it comes to his human resources internship at Country Meadows, a retirement community headquartered in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“From the start, they made it clear — this is to benefit both of us,” he said. “They want to make sure I’m getting a lot out of it.”
Early on, the organization asked about his interests in an effort to tailor the internship experience, he said. Through his 10-week position — which Quigley applied for after seeing it on an employment website — he’s done recruiting and employment tasks, phone screens of potential hires, and assisted at a campus where a human resources staffer was out. He’s visited many of the Country Meadows campuses, assisted with the onboarding of new employees, worked to help update job descriptions for accuracy and compliance, and completed other projects.
Quigley, who is studying management at Penn State Harrisburg, hopes to pursue a career in health care human resources or administration.
He sees working in health care as a way to help people — even if he’s not providing direct care himself. Being part of the process and helping to put people into the right health care jobs is rewarding and fulfilling, he said.
“I think it’s a fast-growing field,” Quigley said. “Especially since the pandemic, companies and organizations have really realized the importance of having people to manage the people and kind of hold things together.”
Fabian Vantassell, a first-generation college student, is driven by a desire to give back to others and found a place to do that at JusticeWorks Youth Care, where he interned this summer.
JusticeWorks is a social services organization with offices throughout Pennsylvania that works to help families, youths or individuals who are struggling with poverty or other issues and connect them with the resources they may need. Vantassell, who worked from the Dauphin County office, spent most days paired with a family resources specialist as they helped children and families in times of need.
The work is sensitive in nature and can be difficult, Vantassell said. But the behind-the-scenes look he got from his internship only confirmed his desire to help.
“It didn’t deter me away from it … it refueled that motivation and that passion,” he said.
Through the internship, he was able to witness success for some clients, such as when they completed programs or when the organization found housing for a woman who’d fallen on hard times.
Vantassell, a criminal justice and sociology major, said it was inspiring to see JusticeWorks employees go the extra mile to help kids and families. One day, he was shadowing a caseworker when she spotted a former client, now employed and doing well.
“To see them connect like that, see the smile on her face knowing the work they’re doing really works is amazing and truly inspiring,” he said.
Vantassell, the college’s incoming Student Government Association president, credited Shauntey James, assistant teaching professor of criminal justice, for connecting him with someone at JusticeWorks. He hopes to become a family attorney.
“Anything I do, I pursue in the interest of helping others,” he said.
Jeremy Katz has worked with children with special needs for years and wanted to make a career of it — but wasn’t sure how. A previous course inspired him to pursue applied behavior analysis, a field he said he finds fascinating.
“Everybody can learn from behavior analysis,” he said.
Katz, who expects to complete his master’s degree in applied behavior analysis at Penn State Harrisburg in December, has been an intern in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, at Helping Hands Family, an organization that provides autism therapy services to children. The work involves helping to identify a child’s behavioral deficits and turn those deficits into strengths, he said.
“One of the biggest components of our job is to figure out the why behind the behavior,” Katz said. Understanding the reason for a behavior can help a therapist change the environment to help increase or decrease that behavior.
“We’re letting our kiddos lead the way,” he said. “Our kids are the ones who choose what they want to do. It’s essentially kind of learning through play.”
Katz said his internship at Helping Hands Family is very structured and included training and assessments. He’s found that his coursework at Penn State Harrisburg has directly correlated to his work at the organization.
“Everything I’ve learned in class, I’ve been able to use in work, which is really awesome,” Katz said.
After graduation, he hopes to become a board certified behavior analyst.
Tyler Shearin’s summer internship involved some pretty amazing views — he just had to get comfortable climbing hundreds of feet in the air first.
Shearin, who is transferring to Penn State Harrisburg to major in mechanical engineering, spent the summer interning at Engineered Tower Solutions, a North Carolina-based engineering company that works on the cell towers that dot the landscape.
After some significant training, Shearin spent much of his time climbing those towers — sometimes ascending as high as 440 feet — to do on-site inspections. He went through training and certification first. Climbing can still be nerve-wracking, he said, but it helped him learn to keep working at it.
“It helped me with fear in general and being able to push myself,” he said. In that way, it reminded Shearin — who will be on the men's soccer team this fall — of the work it takes to be an athlete.
The company also has other divisions, such as civil engineering and Auto CAD. Shearin took a statics course online from another Penn State campus during the first summer session and recalled someone on the job telling him it directly related to their work.
“This is what you’re learning in statics,” he said, noting that was a benefit of the internship. “It’s hands-on experience and being able to see in the real world what you’re learning.”
Criminal justice major Keys Rodriguez is planning for a career in law enforcement, and her summer internship at Keystone Correctional Services gave her hands-on experience and left her with a deeper understanding of the criminal justice system.
Rodriguez worked as a monitor at Keystone Correctional Services, a Harrisburg-based community corrections program that helps individuals being released from corrections facilities. Her job focused on maintaining a safe environment and helping to facilitate successful re-entry. The job included conducting checks, supervising e-entrants on work details, performing searches or providing emergency medical assistance, and more.
“One of the best experiences I had during my internship at KCSI was being able to witness the positive impact we have on reentrants and their successful reintegration into society,” she said. “Seeing individuals who were once incarcerated regain their confidence, develop new skills, and work toward a better future has been truly inspiring. It has taught me the importance of rehabilitation and providing support to those who are seeking to turn their lives around.”
Rodriguez said that in the spring, she attended a networking event hosted by Shauntey James, assistant teaching professor of criminal justice, and there, she met the president of Keystone Correctional Services. The internship has given her a chance to apply the skills she’s learned in the classroom to real-life situations, she said.
“It has given me a firsthand understanding of the day-to-day operations and challenges within a correctional facility,” she said, adding that the knowledge will be beneficial as she pursues a career in law enforcement. “I can say this internship has provided me with a network of professionals in the field who have been instrumental in my personal and professional growth during my time at Keystone Correctional Services Inc.”