Students learn value of internships at campus conference

Katrina foster addresses students

Campus alumna and current Advisory Board Vice Chair Katrina Foster, founder of Milford-based KKPR Marketing & Public Relations, shares her experiences mentoring interns.

Credit: Shannon Williams

DUNMORE, Pa. — Penn State Scranton students recently received a useful tutorial on the many benefits of internships at a recent campus event.

Earlier this month, the campus hosted a Career Education & Internship Conference for undergraduates interested in pursuing real-world professional experience in their intended career path.

Campus alumna and current Advisory Board Vice Chair Katrina Foster, founder of Milford-based KKPR Marketing & Public Relations, shared her experiences mentoring interns, and there was also a panel discussion featuring students, campus program coordinators and representatives from local employers.

In addition, Jon Tobin, campus coordinator of career services, gave a presentation on preparing for an internship, while several campus internship coordinators offered a breakdown of internship requirements per major.

Before introducing Foster, Chancellor Marwan Wafa, commended the gathered students for taking the initiative to learn about the value of internships. As an example, he mentioned his niece, who received a job offer from the company she interned with a full year before graduation.

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of taking an internship.”

— Marwan Wafa, chancellor at Penn State Scranton

During her presentation, Foster estimated that she’s probably had about 50 college interns since founding KKPR 14 years ago, among them current campus English major Juliet Falcone.

Foster genuinely loves the opportunity to serve as a mentor and provide students with access to the skills they’ll need to succeed in the workplace.

“I have a soft spot for young people who want to make a difference,” said Foster, who has gone on to start three other businesses since founding KKPR.

Foster said all interns should strive to bring a solid foundation of “hard” and “soft” skills to the workplace.

Hard skills -- i.e. the specific technical abilities needed to perform in a given profession — are obviously hugely consequential to someone’s employability. However, she said, job candidates also need to possess the soft skills that all employers value, among them leadership, time management and communication skills.

Of course, Foster added, the process of landing an internship is a skill of its own. A good, well-written cover letter allows one to stand out from the other candidates, she said. And, before going into an interview, candidates should take the time to research the company in order to ask knowledgeable questions.

“You can never be too prepared for an internship interview,” Foster said.

The event’s panel discussion featured a range of perspectives from its diverse group of participants: students Luci Polanco and Matthew Palmer; recent graduate Shanie Mohamed; campus program coordinators James Wilkerson (business; project and supply chain management) Kimberly Flanders (corporate communication); and Paul Perrone (English; letters, arts and sciences); and local professionals Sarah Gerrity, human resources manager at Gertrude Hawk Chocolates, and Maureen Snell, senior financial officer at Commonwealth Health System.

Mohamed, who graduated in December with a business degree, recently landed a job as an economic development specialist at the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce. She’s convinced that her two internships — one at the campus’ LaunchBox business pre-incubator in South Scranton, the other at Coal Creative — played a huge role in her getting the job offer.

During the latter internship, she worked on projects with the chamber that proved effective from a networking standpoint.

“It was the first job interview I had post-college,” Mohamed said. “I learned so much during my internship, and I’ll only continue to learn.”

Palmer, an alternate energy/power generation engineering major, is doing a four-year internship at Tobyhanna Army Depot. The experience has allowed him to both develop tangible skills in his field and serve his country in a civilian capacity.

“Internships give you the tools to be responsible and effectively carry out the duties given to you.”

— Matthew Palmer, student at Penn State Scranton

Palmer said he was “extremely persistent” in his quest to land the internship. That’s certainly a good trait to show a potential employer, so long as it’s done with professionalism, Gerrity said.

That same ethos applies to the internship itself, she said.

“When you come to work, make sure you dress appropriately. Come overdressed if need be,” Gerrity said. “You really need to be on the ball and prepared to focus for eight hours a day.”

Wilkerson advised attendees not to discount internships at smaller companies, considering they typically provide students with the chance to do a number of different tasks. Meanwhile, Flanders noted that internships allow students to see if they truly want to pursue a career in that field.

“I’d rather you find out it’s not the career for you during your internship than when you get your first job,” she said.

During his many years as a program coordinator, Perrone has helped students find internship opportunities at a number of places, from the Everhart Museum to the Lackawanna County Public Defender’s Office. His advice to students — follow your interests.

“If you have a dream, an idea for an internship, take it to Mr. Tobin or your adviser,” Perrone said. “Nothing is too ridiculous for consideration.”