Student's path to an internship, and success, started with a raised hand

This is the 11th in a series of articles about summer internships for students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — She’ll start her junior year in the fall but one Penn State student has been passionately pursuing her dreams from almost the first day she stepped on campus.

Just a few weeks into her freshman year, Taylor Harrington attended an alumni mentoring program sponsored by the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. In a room full of motivated undergraduate students hoping to get advice and build their career networks, Harrington stood out by staying seated — and raising her right hand.

“They asked seniors to raise their hands, then juniors, then sophomores and then freshmen. I was the only freshman,” Harrington said. “When there was a break in the session a little later, several alumni came over to introduce themselves and tell me they were glad a freshman was in the room.”

Not surprisingly, a connection Harrington made at that event and then solidified by attending similar sessions conducted every semester by the Bellisario College, led to something more. A recommendation from alumna Meredith Topalanchik, a senior vice president at CooperKatz in New York City whom Harrington spoke to at that first session, perked the interest of fellow alumna Ellyn Fisher, senior vice president of public relations and social media for the Ad Council.

So, two-plus years later when Harrington applied for a summer internship with the Ad Council, Fisher already knew a little bit about the determined and passionate student from Westport, Connecticut.

“Meredith said she was outstanding and some other alumni recommended her as well. I looked at her resume and thought she had extraordinary experience in advertising and with nonprofits,” Fisher said. “On paper, she looked like a great fit for us.”

In person, Harrington verified that assessment.

“She exuded a passion and was a good communicator,” Fisher said. “I was really impressed.”

Harrington, an advertising/public relations major with minors in entrepreneurship and disability studies, had served as vice president of marketing for InnoBlue, the student-driven community of entrepreneurs at Penn State, and had completed a marketing internship with Project Vive, a State College-based startup that makes speech generation devices available to people who are nonverbal with disabilities such as cerebral palsy.

She also had served as a research assistant in a project sponsored by the Kellogg School of Management and the Smeal College of Business.

Her family and a school club shaped her academic and professional focus.

“Growing up with an uncle who has Asperger's syndrome, I learned at a young age, we’re all different. That’s what makes us, us. In elementary school, I heard classmates teasing people with disabilities and I thought about how people might treat my uncle,” she said. “In high school I volunteered with Best Buddies and was matched with my friend Wyatt, who has cerebral palsy and is unable to move the majority of his body.”

As she watched Wyatt use a joystick to navigate through options on an iPad to communicate, she started getting an even bigger message.

“I realized it was not just something I thought about with my uncle, or even with Wyatt,” she said. A class at Penn State with a blind professor provided even more perspective, and she started learning sign language earlier this year.

Before she met Fisher to interview for the Ad Council internship this summer, Harrington was sure she would like working for an organization that typically shapes messages with a meaning or for social good. The Ad Council’s campaigns about domestic violence, drunk driving prevention and safety belt education, among many others, are well known — as are “spokesmen” like McGruff the Crime Dog and Smokey Bear.

“What I love about the Ad Council is how passionate all the employees are about social-good causes and that no two days are alike,” Harrington said. “Through my internship, I’ve worked on Love Has No Labels, one of my all-time favorite campaigns. I’ve absolutely loved sitting in on those conversations and seeing exciting new ideas grow.”

Honestly “sitting in on” clearly represents a euphemism with anything in regard to Harrington. She’s always on the move, always working to make a difference.

For example, when she found out about Project Vive she almost immediately approached founder Mary Elizabeth McCulloch, then a biomedical engineering graduate student at Penn State, to find out how to help. Harrington’s approach stood out, as did her experience.

“She had a personal connection and she already knew the struggle with access to communication devices,” McCulloch said. “I’m trying to think of any intern we had like that and I can’t think of any. She knew right away what we were trying to do. A lot of times we get an intern and we have to sit them down for a month to teach them everything about the special needs community and that was never the case. Plus, she’s a leader and she knows how to create and share good content.”

With two years remaining in her Penn State career, Harrington anxiously awaits the challenges ahead. She’s pretty certain about an eventual career path, and she’s excited about how future course offerings, extracurricular opportunities and internships will prepare her for success.

“It’s hard to say exactly what I’ll be doing in the future, but I know I made a good choice picking advertising because it’s a field that constantly exercises my creativity,” she said. “I believe my junior year will help me decide a little more about what does or doesn’t fit and, hopefully, the best way to combine the things I love to do.”

Last Updated August 07, 2017