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Penn State Smeal’s Farrell Center 2020 Experienceship program for CIENT students a success

November 12, 2020

By MELISSA MANNO

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Despite a scarcity of summer 2020 internships and opportunities due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Penn State Smeal College of Business continued to provide valuable experiences for its students.

Smeal’s Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship launched its Experienceship program this past summer, placing five undergraduate students at various small businesses in Pennsylvania.

Entrepreneurship instructor Travis Lesser is the coordinator of the program and said its purpose was to provide corporate innovation and entrepreneurship (CIENT) students with opportunities to work for startups, small companies and organizations as opposed to larger corporations.

“We wanted to give students these experiences, while understanding that some businesses don’t always have the money to pay for an intern,” Lesser said. “We came up with the idea to subsidize students’ summer internships to allow them to get these opportunities.”

Instead of getting paid through the company they worked for, students received a scholarship through Smeal, taking the financial burden off the businesses involved and allowing them to launch student internships even in the face of a pandemic.

One of the five businesses involved was Lesser’s own nonprofit, Appalachian Food Works, a local food distribution organization.

Lesser said this summer wasn’t the easiest time to launch a new program due to the pandemic and its effect on the economy — but that the unique circumstances proved to have its benefits.

“Both the people working at the startups as well as the CIENT students involved have the ability to adapt and be ready for change,” Lesser said. “Everybody involved got a fast track course in adapting to changing conditions and exceeded in that.”

Lesser reflected on this summer’s pilot project, saying he believes all parties involved viewed it as a success. Although the future of the program is currently undecided, he said he’d like to see it continue next summer to provide more students with opportunities to work with local businesses.

“Experiences are more valuable than anything,” Lesser said. “Through this program, we were able to give students a real look at what it’s like working with a young startup company.”

Jeanette Miller, director of the CIENT major and associate director of the Farrell Center, said this idea had been discussed for the past year and a half, as students expressed their interest in having both corporate internships as well as working with small businesses or startups.

“We found providing students a scholarship to cover part of the internship was the best way to engage companies that may not be able to have student internships,” Miller said. “The program has a strong economic development component for small businesses across Pennsylvania.”

Miller said the program was made possible through its partnership with Smeal’s Business Career Center, which she described as having a “phenomenal approach and process for finding tremendous opportunities for Smeal students.”

From what Miller heard from her students, she said the program was successful in teaching them important lessons in their desired field.

“A lot of students pursue the CIENT major because they have a bit of a different outlook — they want to have that agility and creativity of sparking new ideas and don’t want to be stuck in one defined role,” Miller said. “Having the ability to intern with a small business shows these students how hard entrepreneurs work and how their own work can really impact the broader success of the company.”

Penn State senior Noah Twersky was one of the five undergraduate students part of this summer’s program and was placed with a startup company called Technoserv, an engineering group that focus on non-destructive testing (NDT) in both the public and private center.

“I was a little nervous working with people who specialize in engineering and it was a struggle at first because it was something so new to me,” Twersky (senior-corporate innovation and entrepreneurship) said. “It was a great opportunity to ask questions and I learned to never be afraid to ask for help.”

He said his role as an intern involved working closely with engineers, helping develop and improve the Technoserv website and working on search engine optimization to help the company get recognized on google — many of which were unfamiliar skills to him upon starting the internship.

“I didn’t know anything about search engine optimization or website design when I went into the job — and now I’m kind of an expert on both,” Twersky said. “Because of this experience, I was able to learn new skills that I can take forward into my future.”

Twersky said his Farrell Center Experienceship helped him build character, understand what it’s like to work in a corporate setting, and taught him aspects of business he had no familiarity with. On top of that, he said he was able to fund his summer courses through the program’s scholarship.

“I got a great glimpse of what running a company looked like and that’s something I have always wanted to understand,” Twersky said. “Even though the pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty, I feel like I’m ahead because I was able to get this (experienceship) through Penn State and through the entrepreneurship program.”

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