Graduate student enjoys internship as chance to enhance teaching skills

Jonathan McVerry
July 03, 2019

(Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a series of articles about students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications completing summer internships.)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Graduate students don’t always complete summer internships, but Carlina DiRusso found one that would put her at the center of the public relations world and it was too good to pass up.

DiRusso is spending the summer in New York City interning with the global public relations firm Ketchum. A doctoral student in Penn State’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, DiRusso is eyeing a career in research and teaching, so experiencing the industry firsthand is essential for both.

“This internship is shedding some light on research methods companies use and ways they interpret data,” DiRusso said. “I am looking forward to doing more intensive analysis and getting better at using software tools.”

The 10-week program is a particularly immersive experience for DiRusso, who didn’t fall in love with communications until her freshman year at Ohio State University. Born in North Lima, Ohio, a blue-collar town 10 miles south of Youngstown, DiRusso and her sister were the first in their family to attend college.

One lingering dream was working in the music industry, which DiRusso tried out with a few internships during her undergraduate years, as well as a full-time position, in Los Angeles. But the dream didn’t stick.

“Once I was there, I realized the entertainment business wasn’t for me,” she said. “I decided to go back to school and that’s where I fell in love with research.”

While at Ohio State, some classmates had suggested communications. DiRusso enrolled in that major and — after giving L.A. a try — she never looked back.

DiRusso got into the research game at Cleveland State University, where she earned her master’s degree. She focused on media psychology theory and methodology. When it was time to find a doctoral program, the breadth of research interests among the Bellisario College’s faculty attracted her to Penn State.

At Penn State, DiRusso’s research took a slight turn toward health communication and how science information is disseminated and understood. Areas in sustainability and environmental communications also sparked her interest.

“Carlina is always generating news ideas,” said Jessica Myrick, DiRusso’s graduate adviser. “She thinks outside of the box when tackling her research ideas. [They are] practices that serve her well.”

DiRusso is particularly curious about how people perceive and respond to persuasive messages in social media. She wants to know how the content people see every day influences their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

Myrick, an associate professor of media studies, said graduate summer internships are not common. However, a position designed for graduate students with a leading corporation in the media capital of the world is an excellent opportunity.

“It is easy to get engrossed in the theory and the minutia of academia, especially when you’re a graduate student,” Myrick said. “I am thrilled Carlina has this chance to work in New York City and see theory and research play out in practice.”

By August, DiRusso will have experience working with big-time clients like Clorox, 3M and Amgen. She is working with teams to develop media analyses, research for pitching new business opportunities, and identifying media coverage of certain brands and topics.

“There is a huge emphasis on interacting with the client here,” DiRusso said. “I am learning how to take numbers and make sense of them for the client — and doing it with integrity so they have what they need.”

It’s a real-world experience one cannot find in a classroom, but it’s exactly what DiRusso wants to bring to her classroom. She will be teaching her first course this fall and her Ketchum internship is a major part of her summer preparation.

“Carlina will be teaching research in advertising/public relations and this internship will give her invaluable insights as both a researcher and a teacher,” Myrick said. “Spending time at Ketchum will allow her to bring the real world into the classroom for her students.”

DiRusso said she is looking forward to teaching this fall. She hopes her time with Ketchum, supported by the Don Bartholomew Award for Excellence in Public Relations Research, will help her inspire in-class conversation.

“I expect to teach the students some things, and I’m sure they will teach me a few things,” she said. “I plan on teaching for the rest of my career, so this experience with Ketchum and using some of the research methods it uses is huge.”

DiRusso added that she encourages other graduate students to find an internship or a similar opportunity working in the industry.

“It gets us out of our bubble and it teaches us so many things we may not know,” she said.

In addition to teaching her first course, DiRusso will be completing her comprehensive exams in the fall. Work on her dissertation and more teaching will follow. She is leaning toward health communication for her dissertation topic but said it’s still too early to say.

“It’s up in the air,” she said. “I get a new idea every day.”

Last Updated July 03, 2019