In our final installment of gaining the most out of your liberal arts experience here at Duquesne, Julia Saunders offers tips on how to be successful. Although there isn’t a cookie cutter approach to success, her advice is spot-on. All of the things we’ve covered in this series of blog posts from networking, to utilizing the resources on campus, to how to begin your search for an internship all can contribute positively to your success as a student.
When I began my college search, I made it a priority to choose a school in a metropolitan area. There were many reasons for this decision, but a major reason was that I wanted to have professional experience on my resume before I had my diploma in hand. In my opinion, a city like Pittsburgh is the perfect place for a young professional to grow and develop. While it’s home to a host of international corporations and nonprofit organizations, it’s not as overwhelming to an 18-year-old as somewhere like New York or Los Angeles.
In the past three years, I’ve completed four different internships, three of which were with nonprofits organizations in Pittsburgh. I have been very lucky in that all of my various experiences were overall positive. While some responsibilities were more glamorous than others, I learned valuable technical and interpersonal skills and made lasting connections to expand my professional network in each position.
The best advice I can give to underclassmen who hope to complete an internship is to begin building your resume the first day you arrive on the Bluff. Anyone who tells you that your grades from freshman year don’t matter is lying to you. A solid GPA speaks to your personal brand; it conveys that you are not only intelligent but also have a strong work ethic and a sense of responsibility. Get involved in extracurricular activities that display your varied interests and talents. By getting involved freshman year, you can ensure that you will be eligible for leadership roles by your junior and senior year. Additionally, this is a great way to meet and build relationships with other students throughout the university with similar goals. Finally, volunteer to help those less fortunate than you. This speaks to your character and shows that you have pride in your community.
The most frequent question I get from other students is about where to find internships. I had great success using DuqConnection, a database of internships and full-times jobs compiled and maintained by Duquesne Career Services. This is a great resource because it is unique to Duquesne, and many of the employers who post are interested in interviewing and hiring Duquesne students and graduates. Some are alumni themselves. Also, don’t discount the usefulness of the Internet at large. I’m pretty sure I found out about the Summer Associates program at UPMC by searching for “paid summer internships in Pittsburgh” on Google. It can be that simple.
I also recommend starting somewhere small to gain experience. It’s unrealistic to think that a major corporation or organization will hire you when the only work experience you have is working at an ice cream stand during high school. Each step along the way will help you to advance towards your ultimate goal. Have faith and a positive attitude. I’ve been involved in performing arts for most of my life, and in many ways applying and interviewing for jobs is like going on an audition. Often an employer has two equally matched resumes in terms of qualifications, but their choice comes down to which candidate “felt” like the better fit for the position. It may take a while to find your niche, but don’t give up.
My first internship, where I worked the summers after my freshman and sophomore years at Duquesne, was at a small business near my home in Northeastern Pennsylvania. As the Communications Intern, I used professional writing skills to help in drafting or revising organizational documents. I also had the opportunity to lead a team on the re-design of the company website, which required me to use my experience in HTML coding, Adobe Creative Suite, and other fun projects like organizing a photo shoot for senior level management. I would caution underclassmen to not go into an internship thinking that you’re going to be leading projects on this large of a scale. At the time, this company was in an experimental period in terms of their web presence, thus why they handed over the reins to their 19-year-old intern. I was incredibly lucky.
In the fall of my junior year, I worked as a Special Events Intern with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia, based in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood. I assisted with various campaigns throughout my internship with the ultimate goal of raising awareness and funds to fight blood cancer. Some of my favorites included promotions for Family Support Group meetings, the organization’s popular Christmas card fundraiser, and the annual Light the Night Walk held each October at Heinz Field.
In the spring of my junior year, I worked as a Special Events Intern for WQED Multimedia, Pittsburgh’s public television and radio station located in Oakland. I had the opportunity to become familiar with vendors throughout the Greater Pittsburgh area as I assisted in planning fundraising events for major donors. I also helped to coordinate volunteer activities. In September, I was asked to work an event that I had helped plan during my internship titled An Exclusive Evening with Downton Abbey, a celebration of the immensely popular PBS show. I served as a greeter and a runner during the event, and even got to dress up as a scullery maid in keeping with the time period in which the show is set.
I currently work in digital marketing at UPMC. I completed their Summer Associates program this past summer, and will continue to intern there for the duration of the academic year. My primary responsibilities are to build new websites and pages and make updates to existing websites and pages on UPMC.com. During my summer internship, I dabbled in other facets of web production, including graphic design, programming, quality assurance, and content editing. Additionally, I led a team of other Marketing and Communications interns in a community service project in which we revamped the web presence of a nonprofit organization in Pittsburgh that provides career development services to low-income women.
By now, you can hopefully infer that my experiences are varied. This leads me to my final piece of advice: be willing to try anything and everything. There is no other way for you to figure out where your talents lie and what type of work fulfills you intellectually and creatively. Because of my internship experience, I have better refined what I love to do, and have an even better knowledge of what I would not like to do. However, I’m twenty two years old, and this is only the beginning. Right now, I’m very happy with where I am, and grateful to everyone who helped me to get here, and I can’t wait to see where I’ll go next.