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Populating the Talent Pool

by on February 04, 2013 6:25 AM

Many college towns have to deal with what’s termed “brain drain.” It’s when young people who have had their education and training in one area move somewhere else, usually a large, metropolitan area — so the towns that, in part, helped them don’t see the benefits of that education and training.

Businesses in State College and Centre County have continually tried to sell students on remaining in the area for internships and, after their graduations, to be part of the local workforce. 

Last year, Rita Griffth and Madhavi Kari of Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, presented a program for the CBICC on “Keeping Penn State Interns in Centre County.”

“We mentioned that many students are not aware of the various opportunities in Centre County and that is why they pursue jobs outside of State College,” says Kari, director, career solutions for the College of Information Sciences and Technology. “One of the best and most beneficial ways to expose students to opportunities in this area is providing internship opportunities. Some students may develop relationships and networks that entice them to stay in the area.”

Griffith, career counselor for the College of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State, adds that there are many students who don’t want to leave the area after they graduate from Penn State.

“They want to stay a college student, and so they can kind of still be connected if they find the opportunity for a full-time position in Centre County,” she says. “Students need to know that there is something here for them — even if it isn’t one of the major companies that we’re used to seeing hire our students, there are opportunities in companies here if the students are exposed to them and they might be more apt to stay in Centre County.”

Every student within the college of IST has to do an internship before graduating, according to Zoe Meyer, associate director, career solutions for IST. Most of the college’s students do internships in their junior and/ or senior years. In order to receive credit for an internship it has to be 300 hours and be related to an IT major or security risk analysis.

“I think [the students] get flooded with the bigger companies too. They see them coming here and advertising, so the smaller companies aren’t in their face as much, so it’s

kind of our job to let them know that there are other opportunities out there,” she says.

Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, 21, says he first learned about the local software company Minitab in his Stat 200 class his sophomore year. He is now a senior in the College of Information Sciences and Technology and worked for Minitab last summer.

Minitab is a statistical computer-software company that was developed in 1972. Its world headquarters resides in State College while other offices are located in the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.

“We used the software in class on multiple occasions,” says Obeng-Agyapong, who grew up in the Bronx, New York. “I didn’t actually know that the company had a headquarters in State College until I started talking to one of my academic advisors about internship opportunities in the local area.”

During his internship, he was responsible for leading a project within the marketing department. There he worked with multiple digital-asset management systems, which allowed him to properly organize files through the use of metadata fields and, in some instances, photo recognition.

Dave Costlow, marketing-communications manager for Minitab, worked closely with Obeng-Agyapong on several projects.

“He brought a lot of energy and fresh ideas to the projects he worked on and made several significant contributions to our team. Stephen had a lot of great skills when he started his internship and was able to take on his first project quickly, but was also able to improve upon aspects like his presentation skills over the course of his internship,” Costlow says.

Costlow is responsible for hiring all positions within the marketing- communications department. He says at Minitab they’re always recruiting great people such as Obeng-Agyapong.

“We recruit from a variety of universities, but we certainly like to draw from the deep pool of students and recent graduates from Penn State for both internships and full-time positions,” he says. “Minitab’s location and the Penn State connection also helps when we’re looking for more experienced professionals. It’s fairly common for us to find experienced professionals that are PSU alums looking to return to the State College area.”

He adds that the State College area offers a high quality of life for young families, and he and his wife, Annie, are raising their kids here.

“My son’s almost 4 and my daughter is 18 months, so we feel very fortunate,” he says.

Obeng-Agyapong says the courses that he has taken in IST definitely prepared him for his internship at Minitab. A senior safety on last season’s Penn State football team, he is hoping for an opportunity to play professional football. But if that doesn’t work out, “Working at Minitab after graduation is definitely one of the options I am still considering,” he says.

Dan Leshner, another IST major, says that the School of IST has prepared him for his internship at New Leaf Initiative (NLI) in State College.

“New Leaf Initiative is a nonprofit outlet for people that want to make a positive change in the world,” says Leshner, who is from State College. “If a student has an idea for a project

to better the community or has an idea they want to explore, New Leaf Initiative will provide them with the first step to getting connected with the people in the local community necessary for their idea to turn into a reality.”

He says since his focus is on social media, he mainly overlooks the different projects that are happening. On top of making videos for the projects at New Leaf, he also makes videos for the, which is an idea that sprung from New Leaf.

According to Leshner, the is a global network of coliving spaces for “world-changers.” The in State College will mix 16 Penn State students who will be under one roof where they will work in collaboration with each other and experienced “change makers.”

“Being with people who are so welcoming of everyone and easy to work with makes me want to do the best job I can possibly do,” Leshner says.

He adds that New Leaf gave him the resources he needed to “take my video-making skills to the next level.” He is starting his own production company for freelance work that isn’t directly related to NLI and the, called Little Big Media Co.

“We will specialize in making promotional videos for companies, organizations, students, or anyone that wants to share their ideas/skills with the world,” he says.

Meghan Evans also is sharing her skills with the world as a lead online journalist at AccuWeather. Evans, who grew up near Philadelphia, didn’t intern at AccuWeather but after talking with representatives from the company at a career fair, she became interested in working there and staying in State College.

She has been with AccuWeather for nearly six years now.

“I have definitely enjoyed staying in State College beyond my college years,” she says. “There are so many different things Centre County has to offer. Since college, I have discovered how many beautiful hiking areas are just around the corner. This is also one of the best areas in the country for trout fishing, which is a new hobby I was able to pick up since college.”

Michael Pigott of Downingtown did intern at AccuWeather, and he turned that internship into a full-time position starting in 2007. He’s now the forecasting floor manager — his main duties include quality checking the national and international forecasts and managing the daily schedules of forecasters.

Like Evans, he has enjoyed living here beyond his college years.

“State College is a great place for active people,” he says. “There are football games in the fall. In the spring and summer, there are world- class trout streams that are less than a 10-minute drive from downtown. In winter, there are a few great ski resorts that are only a couple hours away. And I am very excited to see PSU hockey in the Pegula Ice Arena next winter.”

Another local internship program called the Clinical Observations course has been going strong now for four years, and is attracting kids from State College. This senior level capstone course is for State College Area High School students with a strong interests in careers in medicine, nursing, dentistry, or other professional-level careers.

“Students will then observe in participating departments at Mount Nittany Medical Center and community practices, and are provided with introductory experiences and close staff supervision,” says Maryanne Neal, RN, BSN, health-professions teacher for the Clinical Observations course.

Director of education at Mount Nittany Medical Center, Susan Foster, who works closely with Neal and her team, says many of the students are getting to the stage where they want to do something in health care.

“They are in areas of specialties that they may not encounter in school. We are definitely engaged with them throughout the interview process and then throughout the internship experience,” Foster says.

Kylie Green, now a freshman in the College of Nursing at Penn State Altoona, started the Clinical Observations class in 2011. She says being able to spend her mornings in the environment she has always dreamed of working in motivated her to succeed in the health-related classes she was taking at the time.

“It also helped to fuel the desire I had to go to nursing school and put the time and effort in to my applications,” she says. “This experience provided me the behind-the-scenes look at health care that no one would be able to see unless they were actually employed.”

She says that in “rotations” at Mount Nittany Medical Center, the students and their advisors meet prior to dispersing through the floors to discuss what they were to expect, and see on the floor what they were assigned to for that week.

Every week, over the course of the school year, each student was on a new floor or department of the hospital, varying from risk management to the emergency department to central supply and culinary services. Green says the experience gave her a great appreciation for all aspects of the health-care team.

“From those who prepare the meals for the patients to those who greet the visitors at the front desk, to the nurses who provide care on the floors, so much more goes on in the hospital than the public knows,” she says. “There are many more staff involved in the care of the patients and the smooth operations of the hospital than just the doctors and nurses that are the usual ‘face of medicine.’ ”

Joshua Bram, 19, agrees that his experience with the Clinical Observation program was life changing. Bram, now a freshman in the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State,

says there was no typical day as he and other students rotated through various areas of the

hospital, with a new area assigned each week. “Overall, we got to experience almost every

area of the hospital, except for the operating rooms, which was really a great opportunity,” he says. “At the hospital, we did everything from watching cesarean sections to shadowing nurses to experiencing sterile processing.”

Bram says the fact that he was able to get this experience as a high school senior contributed to his continued interest in becoming a physician as well. He says staying in Centre County allowed him to return to high school for the rest of the school day, which allowed him to take the classes that he needed and wanted to take.

“It was also important that I was able to experience health care in a local setting because this gave me a greater appreciation of my town and my own socioeconomic situation,” he says.

Meghan Graham, 18, now a freshman at Penn State, also believes Clinical Observations is one of the most enjoyable and influential programs State High has to offer.

“The health-professions program as a whole is very strong, but I feel that ‘Clin Obs’ in particular is able to prepare students for careers in medicine in a way no other course can,” she says.

She says her favorite part was her rotation through the labor and delivery unit at Mount Nittany Medical Center. “It was an amazing experience for me, especially since obstetrics is a field I have considered going into. I know moving forward into my career in medicine that I will continue to gain from the lessons I learned in Clinical Observations,” she says — and perhaps, after graduating from Penn State, use those lessons to benefit this community.

“It is really about utilizing fresh talent and integrating some of those ideas into our local businesses,” Kari says of the effort to keep Penn State students here. “As our area grows and becomes more competitive with where students are going — New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, DC — then we have more of a chance to keep them here.”


Aimee Morgan is a freelance writer in State College. She enjoys sharing the beauty of the town with friends, family, and her two dogs, Willy and Danny.
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