Penn State SRA student using internship to assess risk, look to future

PHILADELPHIA — Every workday, Tom O’Neill boards a commuter train from his home in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and heads to Center City, home to Philadelphia’s Grant Thornton LLP offices. O’Neill, a rising senior studying security and risk analysis (SRA) in the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) at Penn State, is spending his summer interning with the company’s risk advisory team, which works to identify, analyze and evaluate the results of uncertainty in investment decisions.

O’Neill chose Grant Thornton, one of the world’s leading organizations of independent audit, tax and advisory firms, for his internship in part because he was interested in private sector consulting that offered risk management advisory services. In addition to taking on a role that most aligned with his skill set, he wanted to work for a company with a strong reputation in the industry.

When he returns to IST this fall, he’ll have gained knowledge that will give him a competitive edge in the job market and acquired the soft skills that are often more difficult to learn in a classroom.

“From first grade to my upcoming senior year of college, I have been developing the hard skills — writing, quantitative, scientific — needed to understand the material with which I am working. But, in reality, the hard skills are only half of the equation,” said O’Neill. “A real-world job setting teaches students proper etiquette, communication, time management and responsibility skills that simply cannot be replicated in the classroom.”

The College of IST understands this challenge, which is why all students in the college must complete at least one internship prior to graduation. Beyond enhancing the student’s educational experience and preparing them for professional life, internships also provide valuable networking and employment opportunities.

Upon completing the interview process earlier this year — where he notes that everyone he met, from new associates to veteran partners, was incredibly welcoming and took a genuine interest in him — he knew it was a perfect fit.

“Choosing this internship was a no-brainer,” said O’Neill. 

After meeting with his team to discuss daily tasks and objectives, O’Neill said they travel to a client’s off-site office each day, where they update the client on risk assessment, including identifying vulnerabilities and associated threats, evaluating each risk, and rating the likelihood of occurrence and its potential impact on the business. After risks are identified and ranked, O’Neill and his team recommend controls and processes the client can implement to lessen such risks, he said.

The experience is invaluable to O’Neill, who said he’s still mapping out his professional future. But he believes that choosing wisely a position that enhances his skill set and offers a complementary perspective to his classroom learning will help him consider all the possibilities.

“Wherever I may land,” he said, “I’ll always strive to learn and perform to the best of my ability.”  

As for advice for other students considering future internships, O’Neill said patience is key, as well as knowing exactly what you want to gain from the experience.

“Be proactive in pursuing opportunities, but do not settle for an internship simply because it is the first offer made to you,” he said. “I had to make a difficult decision this past fall, but after considering everything, Grant Thornton was atop my leaderboard.”

And so far, said O’Neill, he couldn’t be happier with his choice.

Last Updated July 13, 2017