Communications intern working for a 'seat at the table'

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles about summer internships for students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Meghan Shiels wants to make the best out of a company’s bad day.

While taking a first-year seminar course in crisis communications, the Penn State junior heard about CEOs and company presidents on the “worst day of their lives.” Class members learned about how vital communications is for every stakeholder involved in and affected by a crisis.

In the real-life case studies, “the CEOs were looking to the public relations people for help,” Shiels said. “It showed me that what I was interested in (writing and public relations) has a place at the table.”

Shiels is studying public relations, with minors in business and theatre. This summer, she is completing a public affairs internship at Dow Chemical Company in Midland, Michigan. Her responsibilities include assisting the company’s in-house video production team, which creates training videos for the company’s internal and external audiences.

The opportunity to work at Dow Chemical literally opened up among a sea of internship-hungry students at a Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications internship fair last semester. Tables of communications companies and PR firms filled most of the room and attracted long lines of students. However, perhaps a bit intimidated by a chemical company, students were not finding their way to Dow Chemical. There was no line at the company’s table.

“I think the others wondered why Dow was there,” she said. “I thought, ‘Strange. It’s the second biggest chemical company in the world. I’m going to go talk to them.’”

Shiels visited the Dow table and chatted with the reps for a while. The public affairs internship was exactly the opportunity she wanted.

Shiels helped produce a video series during a previous internship with WPSU that spotlighted women scientists conducting research in a variety of fields. That experience in video production, as well as covering science topics, surely helped her fit in at Dow.

“Meghan played a pivotal role in in our multi-platform video series ‘Women in Science,’” WPSU producer Cheraine Stanford said. “Not only did she assist with research and provide incredible insight during our selection process for featured scientists, but she also conducted interviews and wrote scripts.”

Stanford called Shiels a “rock star who is destined to be a leader in our industry” — an industry that Shiels found by combining her love of meeting people and her skill for writing. Set to graduate in 2019 and currently holding a 4.0 GPA, Shiels has packed her college career with real-world experiences that are transforming her resume from impressive to exceptional.

Growing up 10 miles northwest of the University Park campus in Julian, Pennsylvania, Shiels knew Penn State was well connected and housed a nationally recognized communications program. She learned that the Bellisario College cared about students’ careers when she started receiving emails from Bob Martin, assistant dean for internships and career services, before starting her first semester.

“I was immediately connected and involved in career networking, and I got plugged into the college’s clubs and involvement fairs right away,” she said.

Shiels later completed a second internship with WPSU-FM researching and reporting on community issues. She also interned with Pennsylvania Certified Organic, where she led community-wide promotions. At Penn State, she was assistant producer of 46 LIVE, a livestream of the annual Penn State Dance Marathon — which was viewed more than 200,000 times. Shiels is a Lion Ambassador, which has been a “huge part of (her) time and love for Penn State,” and she has also acted on Penn State Network Television in a student-produced show titled “Dear Old State.”

“Meghan is the type of student that gives you pause,” said lecturer Bill Zimmerman, who taught Shiels’ news reporting/writing course. “She is so on the ball that it forced me to step up my game. Meghan is dependable, asks intelligent questions … you get the sense that she can do anything.”

Shiels said she isn’t exactly sure what that “anything” will be, but she likes the idea of leading a corporation’s communications — and being ready for any potential crisis.

“My interests are varied and I like to keep things fresh,” she said. “I am still figuring out what my ideal job is … but as long as I have a seat at the table.”

Last Updated June 14, 2017