Penn State journalism major living life in the fast lane

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

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Since the school year ended, things have not slowed down one bit for Catherine Rivera Chardon.

The Penn State broadcast journalism major is spending much of her summer at the famed "The Tricky Triangle" of Pocono Raceway. When the stockcars roar around the “tri-oval” racetrack at 200 mph, Rivera Chardon feels right at home. It’s a destination that she has seemingly been on track for her whole life.

Since starting her position as diversity communications-marketing and social media intern at the raceway in May, Rivera Chardon has assisted in producing press releases and website content for NASCAR. She also plays a significant part in preparing for events, including major races like the Pennsylvania 400 and ABC Supply 500, during the summer internship program.

“NASCAR Multicultural Development’s mission is to engage women and individuals of diverse backgrounds in all facets of the NASCAR industry,” she said. “I am fluent in Spanish so I can help make marketing materials, social media content and general online outreach for our Spanish-speaking audiences.”

Rivera Chardon was born in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. She attended American School growing up, and enjoyed a family life that guided her way to the racetracks of the United States mainland. As a child, she would visit family in Orlando, Florida, during the summer. Her love for racing and the goal to work in its industry was born in 2013, when she attended the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

“NASCAR is one of my dream companies,” she said. “I always thought it would be cool to work for them someday.”

In addition to the sounds of loud engines and squeaking tires, the creativity of communications also runs in Rivera Chardon’s family tree. Her mother worked with many promotional companies while serving as president of the Los Desertores Motorcycle Club in Puerto Rico. The club raised funds for muscular dystrophy, orphanages and mistreated children, through motorcycle rallies.

When NASCAR’s diversity internship became available — a position that mixed communications and motorsports — Rivera Chardon knew it would be a perfect opportunity to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

“I like entertainment. I like media,” she said. “I knew the internship was for me.”

NASCAR senior director of multicultural development Dawn Harris said, “Catherine came to us from a really good place. With her interest and background and marketing experience, she gets the nature of the sport and will understand the very hectic experience leading up to race weekend.”

NASCAR interns need to move quickly and be nimble, and after a few weeks, Harris said, she is confident Rivera Chardon can handle race-weekend preparation and festivities.

NASCAR’s Diversity Internship Program is national. Each year, raceways across the country recruit candidates from all over the world for the 10-week program. Twenty-eight interns are picked out of hundreds of applicants. Selected interns begin the experience in Charlotte, North Carolina, and dive right into the NASCAR lifestyle. During the orientation, Harris said, the newly-minted interns see all aspects of the operation from down on the racetrack to the development office.

“We got to experience a lot of things at orientation,” Rivera Chardon said. “We toured everything. I met important people. It was amazing.”

Harris said NASCAR is proud of its diversity internship program, which over the years has become a great way for students to “cut their teeth” and stay engaged with the industry once they graduate.

“Many of our previous interns are employed in the industry,” she said. “It is very important to NASCAR and I am happy the program has been a success for so long.”

This fall, back at University Park, Rivera Chardon is entering her senior year at Penn State. After graduation, if she does not work in motor sports she has her eye set on working in the music or movie industries. It is why she said taking advantage of a variety of opportunities, whether big or small, is important.

“I am all about shadowing people and learning about the tasks and what they do,” she said. “I want to learn as much as I can.”

At Penn State, Rivera Chardon was involved with CommRadio, doing a little bit of everything for the student-run newscast, including anchor, reporter and talk-show host. She is currently an account executive with the Daily Collegian and also is president of the Puerto Rican Student Association. She said opportunities today open doors in the future — and she has no intention of slowing down.

“I want to be on TV. I want to be involved in production, and social media. I don’t have a preference … at least one of those three,” said Rivera Chardon. “If not NASCAR, my top three choices would be E News, Univision … or working on the American syndicated radio program, "On Air with Ryan Seacrest" hosted by Ryan Seacrest.”

Last Updated July 19, 2017