By Josh McAuliffe
Between upgrading campus facilities and keeping the Dawson Building technologically sound throughout its multi-million-dollar first-floor renovation, this summer was an especially busy one for Penn State Scranton’s Information Technology (IT) department.
Fortunately, the IT staff received some much-appreciated assistance from a group of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) students looking to apply their skills to an actual workplace.
Seniors Thomas Kraser and Jesús Ozuna completed internships for the department, while junior Tyler Blaum and recent graduate Dorian Anderson continued their roles as IT student workers. Senior Tom Miller also worked for the department before heading off to a summer internship at MetLife.
The arrangement was mutually beneficial, said campus Director of Information Technology Marilee Mulvey. On one hand, the department received additional manpower during a particularly hectic time, while on the other, the students gained valuable real-world work experience.
“The students are experiencing things they’re not getting in a classroom. They can apply all the things they learn in the classroom, but also learn other things along with it,” said Mulvey, who is also an IST adjunct faculty member. “It’s figuring out how to plan and execute a project, how to follow up, how to communicate with the people you’re working with. And even though they are students, they are also our colleagues. What that means is we have high expectations for them, while also realizing this is a learning experience for them.”
“Here, they run across obstacles they won’t read about in a textbook,” added campus System Administrator Rob Notari. “When you’re doing this type of work in the real world, things don’t always go as planned. There’s a lot of hiccups you have to work around. … And the variety of stuff they do here -- it’s not one thing. They get the whole IT spectrum, and hopefully that lets them see what they want to do professionally.”
Among other things, the students were tasked with: installing new computer stations, speakers and projectors in campus classrooms; swapping out old digital signage with newer, larger devices; enhancing existing systems; and rerouting about 100 (80 preexisting, 20 new) networking cables throughout Dawson’s ceilings as construction crews gutted and renovated the building’s first floor. Hustling around in their white hardhats, the students were a ubiquitous presence around the building.
Kraser spent a good portion of his time on cable duty. It was a challenging yet “awesome” experience, said the Marine Corps veteran, who favorably compared the IT staff to his former military superiors.
“I made some mistakes along the way, but they were great. Instead of beating me down, they’d patiently show me how to fix something. They guided us really well,” Kraser said. “From a student’s perspective, I never realized how much work goes into maintaining these systems. And the staff gets thrown a million obstacles on top of their regular work. I have a newfound respect for what goes on behind the scenes.”
Blaum, meanwhile, focused primarily on setting up hardware in the classrooms.
“I mess up every now and then, but they’ve been really nice. We joke around a lot,” said Blaum, a recipient of the 2018 Chancellor’s Service Award for Student Workers.
Ozuna had completed all of his IST course work when he landed the IT internship. The experience was a hugely productive way for him to conclude his campus career, he said.
“I didn’t realize how extensive the work was going to be, which to me was one of the big advantages of this internship,” he said. “Because if you can’t actually do the work, you’ve wasted your time.”
A Spring 2019 campus graduate, Anderson was the veteran of the group, having worked for the IT department as both an intern and a student worker during the past three years.
In addition to the great instruction he received from the IST faculty, the IT work experience has proven to be just as valuable, he said.
“It’s a good environment, and everyone really knows what they’re talking about. And they’re really helpful,” Anderson said. “This job helped me find out how tech incorporates into an academic, professional environment. And working with faculty and students, you’re working with a whole range of different people, which helped me build my conversational skills, my social skills. Which is good for anyone in tech.”
Given his experience, Anderson served as a mentor of sorts to his fellow student workers, said IT Support Specialist Jeremy Palko.
“With Dorian, you could tell how far along he was in his development. He took on real leadership roles in parts of the project,” Palko said.
“Dorian is a different person than he was three years ago when he started working with us,” Mulvey added. “You could see the transformation in him.”
In the end, the job proved to be the perfect pre-professional gig for Anderson, who just accepted an IT position at Lackawanna College in Scranton.
“The reward for me is when I hear they got a job and they’re doing well,” Mulvey said. “We look at it as our responsibility to get them prepared to find a job in the real world, and then to excel in that job.”