UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Stephanie Warnock takes a deep breath and approaches the recruiter’s table. Dressed professionally, she introduces herself, speaking clearly as she begins her elevator speech. Like the 500 other students attending the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology’s (IST) Pro Expo career fair, she’s on the hunt for an internship. The only difference is that she is nearly 200 miles away.
Warnock, a 27-year-old adult learner pursuing a bachelor’s degree online in information sciences and technology through Penn State World Campus, lives in Philadelphia. She recently attended IST’s Pro Expo on the University Park campus using a mobile-telepresence robot featuring an iPad attached to a two-wheeled, self-balancing vehicle.
“I was both excited and terrified to drive the machine,” said Warnock. “I was worried about crashing it and how I would look on the screen, but I was also excited because it was such a unique opportunity. Once I knew it was a possibility, I didn’t need any convincing to participate.”
Also known as a Mobile Virtual Presence Device (MVPD) machine, the robot enabled her to have valuable one-on-one interactions with corporate recruiters from companies she is interested in working with, including Vanguard, KPMG, Deloitte, and Merck.
Warnock controlled the device remotely from Philadelphia and was able to test drive the device before the event.
“Driving the machine was really easy,” said Warnock. “There are a few buttons that you tap and hold to go forward or move from left to right. There's also an option to make the machine taller or shorter, so I was able to look at who I was talking to in the eye without them having to kneel down.”
The opportunity was created through a partnership between Penn State’s Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL), which arranged for the use of the machine, and the College of IST’s Office of Career Solutions and Corporate Engagement, which hosts Pro Expo.
“Stephanie reached out to me about career fair opportunities for World Campus students,” said Rita Griffith, a World Campus internship course instructor and corporate relations coordinator in IST’s Office of Career Solutions and Corporate Engagement. “Through IST’s past collaboration with COIL and World Campus, we thought this was a perfect chance to connect recruiters with one of our talented distance learners.”
The college launched Pro Expo in 2005 as a way to connect corporations exclusively with IST students to promote career and internship opportunities. Since its inception, the event has helped hundreds of students find internships and professional placements, and IST continues to expand its professional development services through executive mentoring, interview preparation, and networking events.
Throughout the event, Warnock connected with many of the 65 companies on hand to recruit IST students. While her virtual presence made her stand out in the crowd, most found the experience similar to interacting with students in the building.
“It took some getting used to, but Stephanie was well-prepared,” said Abby Cooper, the consulting campus recruiter with Deloitte. “Once I made sure she knew that I was looking at her resume and not the floor, it was as comfortable and natural as talking to a student who was actually in the building.”
Warnock was excited to use the machine, which helped her bridge the gap between her online education and the traditional college experience.
“The experience was awesome,” said Warnock. “As the event became more crowded, everyone had to sort of part the seas for me to get through, but once I started to speak to the recruiters, it felt like I was there in person.”
Warnock enrolled in IST through World Campus because of the flexibility it offered her to complete a degree online and manage her own schedule. She currently works full time as an accountant in a Philadelphia law office and enjoys having the freedom to learn on her own time.
“My professors have been incredibly helpful, supportive and responsive,” said Warnock. “It’s great to be in class with other adult learners who are balancing their education with full-time jobs and other commitments because we understand and respect everyone’s responsibilities.”
She plans to pursue a career in consulting or project management after she earns her degree, and hopes the virtual connections she made at Pro Expo lead to in-person career opportunities.
“I learned a lot about the different internships offered, and I did receive a lead on a couple of internships,” said Warnock. “The recruiters were amazed that I was able to participate through the MVPD machine from Philadelphia.”
Although it’s difficult to scale this opportunity to more students, IST and World Campus are continuing to partner in hopes of finding ways to engage students who are working or studying remotely in on-campus opportunities.
“Penn State and the College of IST continue to be thinking creatively about how they can get more students involved with employers to help them find good opportunities after college,” added Cooper. “We’re happy to be a part of that innovation.”
Visit the Penn State World Campus website for more information on distance and online education.