Editor’s Note: This is the 10th in a series of articles about summer internships for students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ten people stood atop the Ford World Headquarters building overlooking the multibillion-dollar car company’s sprawling campus. There on the roof was the new CEO and other company leaders. There were photographers from The New York Times. And there was Penn State senior Megan Fleming taking it all in.
In just the first couple weeks as a Ford communications intern, Fleming got to meet and shake hands with the company’s new CEO, Jim Hackett, as well take a ride in an autonomous vehicle. The experiences, along with many others, are providing plenty of material for a journalism major who loves to tell stories. For 12 weeks this summer, she will help a 114-year-old car company tell the story of its future. Fleming couldn’t wait to start.
“Finals ended May 5 and I started here May 8. I packed up everything and jumped right in,” she said. “I’m glad I did. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a thing.”
An early project was organizing a media event to show off Ford’s autonomous vehicles. Alan Hall, Ford communications manager, said the event, which was held at the University of Michigan’s simulated urban environment called “Mcity,” was pretty much Fleming’s project to lead — and she knocked it out of the park.
“Megan coordinated Ford’s involvement in the media program,” Hall said. “She coordinated with our engineering team to develop a drive route. She got the media to come out, and coordinated all the communications work like Q&As, briefing books and messaging to prepare our team. She made it a huge success.”
At the event, Fleming got a chance to “test drive” one of Ford’s self-driving cars. She found herself in the backseat of one while journalists snapped photos and watched in awe. Reporters also had the opportunity to take a ride and the story of Ford’s self-driving car line took shape.
The next day, her team chronicled the dozens of stories and posts about the event from newspapers and social media. “The event helped tell our story,” she said.
Fleming wants to keep telling stories. It’s why she chose the communications field and the reason she picked journalism as a major. Her interest in the industry began 8 miles outside of the Motor City in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where she grew up.
Fleming’s love for journalism came from her high school newspaper faculty adviser, Jeff Nardone.
“Jeff helped me develop into the person I am today. I don’t know what path I would be on if it wasn’t for him,” Fleming said. “I love everything about communications … the creativity and the writing … and it all came from Jeff.”
Nardone passed away during Fleming’s senior year, but his influence and her passion for writing continue to shine. When it became time to look at colleges, she began reviewing journalism programs around the country. Fleming didn’t know much about Penn State, but she researched the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications and scheduled a visit. She fell in love with the University the moment she stepped on campus.
“I put my deposit down almost immediately,” she said. “It was during the tour. I knew I wanted to come to Penn State.”
Upon arrival, Fleming joined Onwardstate.com as a reporter. She contributed more than 300 articles and served as the managing editor for a year. During her time with the online publication, she broke the story of Penn State’s logo and branding change in 2015 and wrote a feature on the University’s then-oldest alumnus, Ray Walker.
“I treasure that interview. (Walker) had the most incredible story,” Fleming said. “I was a freshman and hearing about his life experiences and all he did for Penn State really inspired me and still does.”
Nothing has changed for the Michigan native since that first tour of the University Park campus. She still loves it. The faculty, students and staff she has met over the past three years have been incredible. She enjoys the many opportunities and resources the Bellisario College provides and does not take any of them for granted.
Despite rough times for the industry, Fleming is confident in her choice of major. She says journalism is a fascinating industry that is at the forefront of “incredible change.” She is looking forward to being a part of that change, if not as a journalist than as someone who continues to tell and share stories.
“Megan’s ability, in my experience, is what you hope for in an intern,” Hall said. “Given her background and experience, she understands journalistic and PR needs. She is incredibly smart and grasps things quickly.”
Asking good questions and fervent note-taking helps Fleming stay informed and ahead of the curve. She has a keen interest in new things. A self-proclaimed “computer geek,” Fleming thinks her fluency in technology will help her in the job market and help her future employers innovate.
“One of my goals is to become a master of technology and innovation. I want to tell those stories and communicate them effectively,” she said. “You have to know what you’re talking about. If you don’t, people aren’t going to listen.”
Despite living so close to the birthplace of the auto industry, Fleming doesn’t have any family ties to the “Big Three” automakers. However, she is eager to learn everything she can about the industry’s evolution. She takes a lot of pride in the Ford she drives, where it came from, and the ingenuity that went into creating it.
When she drives her Ford back to University Park this August for her final year at Penn State, Fleming will return to an internship with the Office of Student Affairs. She also will continue to serve as a Lion Scout and connect with high school students who are considering Penn State. Those prospective students will hear Fleming’s stories about the Bellisario College and the University.
“You know, I don’t have any family who went to Penn State, which I know is rare,” Fleming said. “But hopefully in the future I will be that person that has a big Penn State family. Maybe I’ll be the first of many.”
No doubt Fleming and her family will have plenty of stories to share.