Food Services and academic program collaborate on new internship

November 26, 2008

University Park, Pa. -- Penn State University Park sophomore Chris Decker has a favorite station at Redifer Dining Commons: "In a Pickle." But the deli section of the cafeteria in South Halls isn't his favorite place to eat, it's his favorite place to work.

Decker, a hotel, restaurant and institutional management major (HRIM), is completing a paid internship for course credit in the dining hall for 16 weeks this fall.

"This internship is great because it's on campus, you get paid and you get three credits," he said. "I like working with food and people, so this is a great experience."
Decker is one of 12 students this semester who have been given a rare opportunity to complete an internship in food services at University Park. This internship is in addition to the already established on-campus HRIM internships at the Nittany Lion Inn, the Penn Stater and a catering internship with Java Catering.

Maria Kim, assistant manager of internship coordination and a 2001 HRIM graduate, said when she was an HRIM student, she didn't even consider the field of institutional food service. She just thought she'd be working in restaurants and hotels. When she was hired full-time at Penn State, she wanted student interns to learn more about that particular industry and take away valuable experiences from the internship program.

During the first six weeks, each student spends one week on a different food rotation in Redifer Commons, at sites such as "In a Pickle," the sandwich bar, and "Urban Garden," the salad bar, performing all the duties required to run that facility. During the following three weeks, the interns become student supervisors who oversee and delegate tasks to student employees. During this time each student chooses one of six full-time managers, including Kim, to serve as a mentor during the remainder of the program and to teach each student their management style. Managers go over a checklist of duties and expectations with the students each night, and during the last four weeks of the internship, the students become managers-in-training.

"The evaluation after each night is really helpful," said Decker. "You know which area you're doing your best work in and what you need to work on."

At the end of the semester, students have a final group project -- they must plan and carry out a semi-formal event. From decorations to food, the students are in charge of the entire function.

"I've seen students that have never had to clean before and now they're having to put a lot of sweat into the job," Kim said. "But after that, they have a whole new outlook on how they treat food service employees. This program gives them a life-rewarding experience while showing them how to be leaders."

In addition to the work the interns complete at Redifer Commons each week, they attend a weekly hour-long class. During each class a guest lecturer discusses different skills that employees need in the field, such as customer service and leadership. There's even a class based on personality tests so students know how to handle different employee temperaments on the job.

"The skills students develop here will be useful no matter what industry they go into," said Kim. 

  • HRIM students prepared for the South Food District's 2008 spring formal, the final project for the food service internship.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated November 18, 2010