An outside-his-comfort zone internship proves rewarding for PR major

This is the 16th in a series of articles about summer internships for students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For one Penn State student, stepping out of his comfort zone this summer paid off.

In October 2016, Marty Kassalen was completing an internship at a public relations agency through Penn State’s Stanley E. Degler Washington Program in the nation's capital. At the time, Kassalen wasn’t exactly sure how he was going to spend his summer. At first, he envisioned a more traditional route with another PR agency or firm.

However, things changed when he heard about an internship in Pittsburgh with Covestro, a leading global supplier of raw materials that are used in about every area of modern life — ranging from housing insulation to bridge coatings and soccer balls. While it may not have fit his original plan for the summer, at some point something clicked.

“While considering Covestro for the summer, I finally realized that in order to put myself in the best shape as I accelerate toward graduation, I should get as many experiences in different industries as possible,” said Kassalen. “By diversifying my work experience, I'd be able to make new contacts, be challenged with exciting work, and also grow and develop new skills and strengths in unfamiliar areas.”

By November, Kassalen’s internship plans were in place. A Pittsburgh native, the internship also was close to home.

As a “commercial intern,” Kassalen works in the company’s coatings, adhesives and specialties (CAS) business unit with the industrial marketing and marketing communications teams. The main thread of his work revolved around digital market segmentation, which organically fed into his assistance in the growth of an internal social media advocacy program for employees.  

Kassalen has been tasked with working with 15 CAS employees within industrial marketing, sales and advocacy to strengthen their personal brands on social media (LinkedIn and Twitter) to build alternative channels for business purposes.

“Leveraging each person's unique industry focus, I try to creatively work with the advocates to target audiences, create engaging and powerful messages, and boost their message reach — leading to them being thought leaders and discussion starters in their respective industries,” said Kassalen. “Helping the employees amplify their personal brands and teaching them how a strong presence on LinkedIn and Twitter can benefit them and the company has been challenging and rewarding.”

There, Kassalen has worked with his team to employ several different strategies to facilitate results.

“In order to build sustainable growth in the program, I help develop best-practice sessions, work one-on-one with each advocate, and research the depths of these platforms to ensure we use various resources to target our markets,” said Kassalen.

Stemming from this, trial and error has been a strategy that has been kept in mind.

“I run lots of analytics to draw insights on what is working, and what isn’t,” Kassalen said. “An analytical mind leads to adaptive learning — proliferating stronger results.”   

In addition, Kassalen has had the opportunity to work as part of a team that included other summer interns from various departments. The team was tasked with coming up with energy conservation solutions for one of the buildings on Covestro’s campus, which was a new and interesting experience for Kassalen.

“The most fun thing I’ve been a part of this summer — I’d have to say working as part of a team for the intern sustainability challenge,” said Kassalen. “I’ve been able to stretch the boundaries of creativity and thought, all the while learning in new areas and developing a previously unrecognized admiration and interest for science in technology. Specifically, I’ve been able to look at the ideation of solar power, electric and autonomous vehicles, and energy efficiency.”

Taking on new challenges has been a consistent strength of Kassalen’s.

He has worked closely with the recently created Center for the Study of Sports in Society at Penn State, creating the website for the center. In addition, he runs the social media accounts for the center, and attends relevant lectures to live tweet comments and information rom speakers.

“Marty is a guy who has been aggressive about learning as much as he can about essentially new technologies,” said John Affleck, the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications and member of the Center for the Study of Sports in Society’s executive committee. “What he hasn’t learned in class, he has taught himself. He’s just a really pleasant guy to be around. He’s an easy-going, fun guy.”

For Kassalen, the public relations field is the perfect fit for him because it is completely open-ended and is applicable to any industry of choice. From the moment he applied to Penn State, he knew PR was the field he would pursue, and the versatility of the degree made it that much more appealing.

“On the first day of the internship, our hiring manager told us about learning agility — having the ability to wear different hats on different days. In public relations, I’ve developed a pretty good collection of hats,” said Kassalen. “Having the capability of being flexible and sufficient in multiple areas — really exhibiting that learning agility is something I’ve come to grasp in my time here this summer. Being that sponge that soaks up assignments in uncomfortable areas is something that I once was fearful, but is now something I embrace with anticipation.”

Last Updated August 18, 2017