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Penn State York revamps internships program with real-life project experience
[January 16, 2013]

Penn State York revamps internships program with real-life project experience

YORK, Pa., Jan 16, 2013 (York Daily Record - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- When Sagar Shukla sat down with his faculty advisor last spring to learn about a new internship opportunity, he was a little taken aback by the conversation.

Penn State York was hand-picking the first students for its new Graham Entrepreneurial Leadership Program internships, and Shukla was in the running.

"I thought, 'this sounds more like a part-time job,'" he said.

According to his faculty advisor, Bill Cantor, Shukla had the right idea.

The program was designed to give students more than work experience. Each student was matched to a local company that needed the particular talents the student already had, and the intern was given a major hand in a real project.

Shukla, 23, an information sciences and technology major from Mumbai, was a strong candidate academically and also showed an interest in leadership and a maturity to handle himself professionally, said Cantor, an instructor in information sciences and technology.

When Shukla arrived for work at Graham Architectural Products in early June, he was made a project manager in charge of automating the help desk process at the company.

Over the next several months -- his internship was extended in August so he could complete the project -- Shukla researched the qualities Graham wanted in a help desk software, came up with a list of possibilities and after careful deliberation, choose a product.

He had complete control over the entire process and was responsible for the five full-time employees that were helping him, Shukla said.

The idea for the internship program was seeded by Don Graham, the founder of Graham Architectural Products. He wanted Penn State York to develop an internship program that would cultivate students that could approach their jobs with creativity and intelligence, said Harley Hartman, a professor of electrical engineering and faculty advisor in the program.

"Graham wanted to hire graduates that could work within a company but bring new ideas and steer the company toward a goal," Hartman said.

Jon Knepper, 24, of Springettsbury Township worked with Graham Architectural Products in the marketing department.

He was put in charge of developing a paperless filing system for the company's business orders. Graham manufactures commercial and architectural windows in Spring Garden Township.

"They had a paper-heavy system for ordering," Knepper said. "We figured out a way to replace the paper with a computer system." Knepper, a business major, graduated in December.

Knepper was offered a position at Graham, but ultimately decided it wasn't the right fit.

With the internship experience to lean on, Knepper was able to make a more informed decision about his career path.

Another unique aspect to the program is the frequent feedback communication loops, said Ali Kara, a professor of business at Penn State York and a faculty advisor for the program.

Students are matched with an executive mentor at the company they work for, in addition to meeting regularly with their faculty advisor.

"We keep in close touch with the student and the mentor to learn the student's strengths and weaknesses and monitor any changes," Kara said.

The feedback helps mold the students' individual course load and can lead to modification of a department's curriculum, Kara said.

Maybe a student is missing a key skill, like confidence in speaking during meetings. For their elective course, a faculty advisor would recommend a speech class, Hartman said.

Andrew Warfel, 22, of Lancaster County did a lot of drafting during his internship with Graham. When he arrived on the job, the drafting software he had to use was not a program he knew. He learned the new program, but the extra time commitment could have been avoided, he said his mentor told him.

The faculty at Penn State York are taking information like this seriously.

"We are working to adjust our curriculum and tailor it to student needs," Kara said. "It's interesting. Industries have their needs, colleges have others. We want to bridge that gap." ___ (c)2013 York Daily Record (York, Pa.) Visit York Daily Record (York, Pa.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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