When Experience Matters: HU prepares students for workforce

The experience factor almost always is an issue recent college graduates grapple with during a job hunt.

But how does someone fresh out of college get experience when employers seem to only hire people already working in the field?

Thanks to Harrisburg University’s Experiential Learning Program, our graduates compete on a level playing field with seasoned job applicants, because they have hands-on experience and know-how employers are looking for before they enter the workforce.

Unlike most schools, graduate and undergraduates at HU must tackle at least one experiential learning course -and a hands-on applied project in their field – before they graduate. Undergraduates also must complete an internship before earning their degrees.

“Experiential learning is at the foundation of the educational experience here at the university. We require at least one experiential experience for all students. I know of not one other university that has this requirement,” said Kim Sprought, Associate Director of Experiential Programs and Professional Development at HU. “The program provides students a sandbox to get that real-world experience. The fact that we are giving them applied work while they are in college sets them apart.”

The experiential learning program also gives students a chance to test careers before committing to them.

Dyanna Zollo, 27, an interactive media major entering her senior year at HU, said she wants to pursue a career in game development.

Before landing an internship with a small board game producer based in Lebanon County, Zollo figured her options were limited. Zollo, who also briefly attended art school, figured she would wind up working for a larger, more corporate company where her creative talents would be kept in check, at least initially.

“I realized there are more career opportunities and options available to me, and that it’s possible to go into the indie side of things, be a creative person and still be successful,” Zollo said of her internship experience. “During my internship, I had an opportunity to go to conventions and meet a lot of people. The internship helped me in every capacity. I did a lot of play testing, helped make improvements on the project I worked on. And I assisted with market research, and other research.”

From front to back are HU Graduate Joseph Royall, who now works for WorkXpress; KaRon Scott, who is in his final semester at HU and is an intern at WorkXPress; and Rebecca Hull, an HU graduate who also works for the tech company.

Randall Hayes, a Biotechnology major who also is entering his senior year this fall at HU, called his hands-on experiences at HU “a wholly positive experience.”

Hayes, 31, is enrolled in an internship with Harrisburg-based Chemical Solutions Limited this summer.

Hayes, a lab assistant with the company, also has completed one of two applied projects undergraduates must finish before they graduate.

For his first applied project, Hayes analyzed water samples collected for a larger acid mine drainage project headed by HU Professor Albert Sarvis.

“It was really hands-on. That is the whole goal of the project. I was in the field. And it exposed me to hands-on skills, experiences and people that I’m not sure I would have had the chance to meet otherwise,” he said.

After he graduates, Hayes wants to pursue clean-meat technology research, which involves harvesting a muscle sample from an animal and growing meat for consumption via the In Vitro fertilization process.

Whether he lands a job further developing clean-meat technology, or he continues studying the process in school, Hayes said his work could help negate the need to slaughter animals.

Hayes intends to incorporate clean-meat research into his second applied project at HU. He said after he obtains a muscle sample from a cow, he will process it in a lab at HU.

Hayes said the resources and personalized faculty attention is what will allow him to pursue such a project.

“It’s all about the initiative of the student. And there is personalized attention, the one-on-one’s you can have with the faculty and the facilities are at my disposal,” Hayes said. “And my project two, it’s going to help me with my career goals.”

HU students intern with a myriad of companies and public agencies, including the Harrisburg Bureau of Police, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Dauphin County Coroner’s Office.

WorkXPress, a Harrisburg business application web development company, has forged a strong relationship with HU and welcomes several of our interns each semester. Some now work full-time for WorkXPress, which is located near campus in the Strawberry Square shopping center and office complex.

Rebecca Hull, a recent HU graduate, is a former WorkXpress intern who now is a full-time employee with the company.

HU’s experiential learning program connected her with a job she loves.

“I like the fact that I am working on something different, and they let you get involved here,” Hull said. “And I already knew the people who worked here. It’s a team effort here. And the company is growing.”

KaRon Scott, 21, a WorkXpress intern who is wrapping up his senior year at HU this summer, said he easily could see himself working full-time for the company.

Scott said he is able to get involved with work that makes a difference in an environment that fosters collaboration.

“I think this is a very good spot,” he said of the company HU connected him to. “They are doing something very rare here, and it’s a developer’s dream to join a start-up that has a bigger sense of direction.”

For more information about Harrisburg University of Science and Technology’s experiential learning program, visit our website at www.harrisburgu.edu.

Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields to a diverse student body. For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717.901.5146 or email, Connect@HarrisburgU.edu