Work Experiences Open Doors, Eyes for Penn College Students

Published 12.14.1997

Student News

In addition to hospitality student Ellen Berry, others mentioned in this article are Kevin LeFever, construction management; Bernard McGahee, electronics technology/biomedical (a grad now working in Arizona thanks to his internship); and Craig Eozzo, manufacturing engineering technology.

Work-based learning is a cooperative effort of Counseling & Career Services and faculty coordinators.

Thanks to a work-based learning experience, Ellen Berry, of Hughesville, has returned to her classes at Penn College with a better sense of the working world and the tools she needs in order to succeed in that world. Berry is among the increasing number of Penn College students who are "learning and earning" gaining practical work experiences that enhance their skills and hireability.

This past year, student interest in co-op participation has grown along with employer demand. Employers are learning the value of building a hiring pool of qualified candidates through an internship or co-op program. While many of the larger corporations have had a structured program and recruitment in place for some years, smaller employers are beginning to catch on to the concept, using co-op to assess a student's potential for permanent employment while gaining the student's loyalty to accept a position upon graduation.

Work-based learning, including internships and cooperative education (co-op) experiences, serves to strengthen students' resumes and is a cooperative effort of the College's Counseling& Career Services Office and faculty coordinators representing Academic Affairs. The faculty coordinators develop training agreements that include learning objectives, perform site visits and issue final grades for the students' experiences.

For Berry, working at the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino-The City of Entertainment was an invaluable experience that brought her classroom learning to life and gave her insights into the business of hospitality.

"The theories you learn in the classroom are often cut and dried. It is considerably more difficult to apply black-and-white examples to the shades of gray in real life," she comments.

Nothing Berry would have learned in the classroom could have prepared her for the "total chaos" that was the order of the hour when the MGM Grand hosted this summer's Tyson-Holyfield fight. At the airport, Berry greeted VIPs and juggled an array of luggage and limousine logistics. Later, at the hotel, she and other employees contended with crazy and often uncontrollable crowds.

Even for the hospitality industry, it was an atypical "day at the office."

Another highlight of her time at the MGM was inspecting room details in the VIP luxury suites, which feature four bedrooms each with full bath, large living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens and balconies. Among the expected guests one day were Tom Jones and Wayne Newton.

Other behind-the-scenes activities assigned to Berry included working in scheduling and payroll, the lost-and-found department, and in the main communications center for the housekeeping department.

"Of all the things I learned, the most important asset that I am walking away with is the insight on what employers are looking for in employees. I can turn this around and use it to be more prepared for my interviews, what courses in college to schedule, and what I need to do outside of class on my own time in order to be prepared and superior to my fellow competitors," Berry offered. "In order to be more successful, I now realize how to better myself through college, what areas I'm proficient in, and what areas I need to become more competent in."

While Berry was working away in Nevada, a fellow Penn College student was laying groundwork for a future job in nearby Arizona.

Bernard MaGahee, of Lewisburg, a May graduate in electronics technology/biomedical emphasis, had set his sights on relocating to the Southwest. With the aid of Counseling and Career Services, he researched the area and mailed several resumes. From those efforts, he landed an internship with Entech, based in Tempe, Ariz.

By contract, Entech services medical electronic equipment for several health organizations in Arizona, including Samaritan Health System, which is comprised of four hospitals in the Phoenix area. Because of his internship, MaGahee was offered a full-time position as a biomedical technician working from Entech's satellite office in Tucson.

Kevin LeFever, of Williamsport, a student in the four-year construction management major recently returned from Dallas, where he served as a project manager for Wycliff Associates, an organization constructing a 34-unit apartment complex for retired missionaries. Estimating, materials research and purchasing were just some of the tools LeFever got under his belt thanks to his co-op experience.

"I was working construction before I came to college," LeFever says. "I worked for a small remodeling business and decided I didn't want to always be swinging the hammer, but working as a construction manager was definitely an attraction. I could see myself working into that and enjoying it."

Craig Eozzo, a senior in the baccalaureate degree major of manufacturing engineering technology, also gained valuable experience in the work world due to his internship with Union Camp, a manufacturer of flexible packaging in Hazleton. The St. Marys resident worked on the safety/standards team at the facility and was exposed to OSHA regulations and a host of other procedures as well as quality assessments.

"It gave me insight into what goes on in a manufacturing environment," Eozzo explained. "The internship was a good step. I wouldn't have wanted to start work without it."

In recent surveys published by the National Association of Colleges & Employers, of which Penn College is a member, employers are reporting the necessary skills expected for both technical and nontechnical hires and are indicating that the problems encountered by new graduates "are more likely to be relational and personal competencies skills not directly taught in the classroom." Participation in co-ops or internships can help students develop or refine these skills to be competitive for employment. For this reason and many others, co-op is one way of bridging the gap from education to employment.

Employers are invited to contact Counseling & Career Services at Penn College, at (570) 327-4502, to participate in a co-op or internship program or for further information.