Penn State Intercom......March 2, 2001

Students gain personalized
attention from variety of programs

By Julie A. Brink
Public Information

When students participating in this year's Steppin' Out, a multicultural career planning conference, sit down to lunch, they'll learn how to mind their business etiquette p's and q's. WEPOcmyk

"We talk about everything from picking up utensils to bad foods to order because they're difficult to eat," said Chris MacGill, coordinator for the Career Services-sponsored program, which will be March 16 and 17 at the HUB-Robeson Center. It is one of the many programs at the University that enhance education and prepare graduates for professional careers. These range from large events, like the annual career days and student activity fairs that draw thousands of participants to others, like Steppin' Out, which expects to draw about 150 participants, that focus on a more intimate relationship with students and hope to break down traditional communication barriers.

The University can be an intimidating place for many students and the burden of choosing a career can be just as perplexing. The coordinators of these smaller events say their focus is on improving students' confidence and raising their comfort levels.

"I think these are important and valuable programs," said Jack Rayman, director of Career Services. "I'm concerned that all the people who can take advantage be made aware of them."

At the Professional Etiquette Luncheon, MacGill fields a stream of questions from students that she says get down to the real nitty-gritty: What if you don't like something? How do you order? What do you do if you drop your fork?

"Mostly people don't know a lot of these little etiquette rules," she said. "It's a lot of fun."

The whole conference is aimed at giving students the tools they need to make good decisions, she said. With sessions like "Surviving in the Real World" and "Making Solid Career Decisions," MacGill said she wants participants to have the skills to feel comfortable calling company representatives and positioning themselves in the job market.

Programs for women engineers

The College of Engineering has a number of programs with similar goals. For instance, about 100 young women participate in WEPO, the Penn State's Women in Engineering Program, which holds a yearlong orientation program. WEPO is designed to introduce women to engineering as a creative, rewarding profession oriented toward teamwork and helping people, according to Barbara Bogue, director of Penn State Women in Engineering Program. The process begins about three days before classes start for the fall semester. The women, all garbed in bright orange T-shirts, join in a scavenger hunt, play broomball, do teambuilding exercises at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center and join in a career development dinner with faculty and corporate representatives. Students are given a daylong design project that will prepare them for their coursework as well as teach them teamwork and presentation skills.

"Last year we did something based on 'Survivor,' " Bogue said. "We gave them a package of things and told them they had to get off the island."

The young women in WEPO also learn how to use the Penn State computer system and are introduced to the software they'll be using in their first engineering class.

"We know that women often come into engineering with less confidence in their computer skills -- that's been borne out with research," Bogue said. "We're giving them ownership of the physical space."

The students stay together throughout the year, meeting once a month for mapping sessions that help keep the information flowing on issues like internships, studying abroad, majors that help with their career goals, time management, etc.

"The objective is to make Penn State a small place for these kids," Bogue said.

Shannon Appleby is in the fourth year of her five-year architectural engineering program. She's been a lead mentor in WEPO for two years.

"It's really been an awesome experience," she said. "It's developed my leadership skills a lot over the past two years. It's also just really cool to talk to women coming in -- to see them over the years to see how they've grown up."

Professional experience

Down the hall, a number of other programs are being carried out in Engineering, like the Cooperative Education program where juniors and seniors alternate semesters of classwork with work experience at various job sites.

"They're treated like a regular full-time employee, they get paid, at least half go out of state for work," said Anita Todd, director of the program, which attracts about 900 students annually.

"We get students out into industry where they develop interpersonal skills, maturity, self confidence," Todd said. "They get the business savvy in the workplace."

On a more intimate scale, the college is home to a number of smaller workshops, many of them like the G.E. Leadership Conference. About 50 to 100 freshman and sophomores attend the daylong event where they discuss leadership skills, learn how to read the Wall Street Journal and do teambuilding exercises. The workshops draw a number of business and science majors as well.

"Companies are telling us leadership is important," Todd said.

Mike Boylan, a senior majoring in electrical engineering who will be graduating in May, has participated both in the Cooperative Education program and the leadership conference.

"The G.E. Leadership conference provided me with a great deal of insight to the soft skills that engineering managers should possess such as how to devise a 'win-win' situation for manager and employee issues," he said. "Learning these concepts early in my student career helped to cultivate the skills in the classroom and student organizations I participate in."

A related program sponsored by Lockheed Martin focuses on business ethics. Bob DeCarli, engineering process improvement program manager, brings a Dilbert-like board game to campus. About 20-30 students break up into teams to answer ethics-related questions and move around the board. The seminar draws business, engineering and IST students to focus on the issue.

Building a business bridge

Penn State Erie's School of Business is doing similar work with its students. Most recently, the school's faculty put together a weekend retreat, the Sophomore Business Bridge. It was designed to help sophomores set personal goals and learn about career paths. The event included round-table sessions with business representatives who answered questions about their work, as well as young alumni from the School of Business who shared their interview and job search experiences and senior business students who advised sophomores on the best courses to take to achieve their personal and career goals.

University-wide mentoring

University-wide, the mentoring process offers one-on-one counseling for students. Lion Link, a professional networking program sponsored by the Penn State Alumni Association and the Office of Career Services, has been in operation for four years. Program coordinator Lisa Hatheway matches students with alumni career coaches based on the students' occupational and geographic preferences. The alumni career coach will offer information about job opportunities and advice on career planning and exploration. About 600 to 800 students register each year for a networking opportunity. Students can register online at

"They get a boost to their self esteem, talking to a professional who takes an interest them," Hatheway said. "The alumni like giving back something that's not monetary."

FastStart is a similar program for minority students that matches first-year students with both a faculty/staff mentor and an alumni mentor, according to Gina Giacomantonio, coordinator of student alumni programs.

"We want them to feel comfortable and connect to the University as soon as they arrive," she said.

The program draws about 100 students a year who participate in the events, like a Welcome to Penn State picnic, aimed at facilitating mentor-student interaction.

"It's a nice program," said Vuong Ly, a freshman who took part in some of the programs. "It's a very good experience. I met some people that way."