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Human Resources Success Stories

Photo of Melissa Harbulak

By Ron Paglia

Sunday, July 16, 2006

One of the basic tenets of California University of Pennsylvania's Internship Center is to give students an edge in the job market with experiences that go beyond the traditional classroom setting. Melissa Harbulak believes in that concept.  "I love it; it's been such a great experience," Harbulak, a senior at Cal U, said of her internship at the Center in the Woods in California. "It's such a warm environment here and I'm learning so much about people and the business aspect of the operations."

Harbulak, 21, has been a resident of California for two years and sees the internship as extending her efforts to "be a part of the community."

"I truly care about this community," she said. "I want to get involved and get to know the people. I feel we (college students), given the opportunity, can bring so much to the community in terms of ideas, energy and a willingness to work for the benefit of everyone here. My internship at the Center in the Woods has given me an opportunity to prove that." 

George Krcelich, chief executive officer of the Center in the Woods, said Harbulak has been doing just that.  "She came here with a very positive attitude and has been an asset to us," Krcelich said. "She is very motivated and an extremely outgoing person. She has made a strong impression on our staff as well as the members of the Center."

Karen Primm, director of Cal U's Internship Center since it was first developed in 2004, isn't surprised that Harbulak is doing well.

"Melissa is a terrific fit for a nonprofit such as the Center in the Woods," said Primm, a Cal U employee for 18 years. "She is a critical thinker with a huge heart. She is intensely curious and combines her technical skills with her ability to build relationships. That is a winning combination in whatever field she chooses."

Harbulak, a senior at California University, is pursuing studies toward a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in human resource management. After graduation in December, she would like to work for a nonprofit organization and also earn a master's degree.

One of the first assignments she took on at the Center in the Woods was revising the job description policies for the facility's staff.

"They were a little outdated, pretty much a hodgepodge of descriptions," Harbulak said. "It was a matter of updating them and making them more detailed, more definitive. I talked to each of the employees about the project and they were very helpful and receptive to what I was doing."

Harbulak also is developing a marketing plan for the Center in the Woods with special emphasis on the Adult Day Care program there.

"What a wonderful resource that is to people of the area who require such services for their family members or friends," said Harbulak, a 2002 graduate of Greensburg Salem High School. "I had no experience with anything like that. It opened a whole new world to me and I feel more people should be aware of what it offers. Rita (Petrus), the director of the Adult Day Care program, has been a tremendous help to me."

Harbulak said that in addition to offering valuable opportunities to interact with a variety of people, the internship also has enhanced her technical skills and boosted her self-confidence.

"I've always been someone who sets goals and this experience has made me even more aware of the importance of that," she said. "I'm more confident of what I can do each day and I know I can reach those goals and do something beneficial for other people. I'm fortunate to have good professors at the university and this has completed my studies there. It has taken me beyond the classroom in a unique way. I would love to take some of the classes they offer here and interact with others that way, too.

"I love learning," said Harbulak, who also works at the Subway restaurant in California. "I don't think you can ever learn enough from a variety of sources. I chose to enroll at California because it is a smaller school in a small, community setting. I wanted to be more than just a number on some large campus. My experiences have proved I made the right decision."

Harbulak extended appreciation to the university and Primm for the opportunity provided by the Internship Center and urged other students to take advantage of the program.

Primm said the Internship Center was established in keeping with the university's mission of "Building Character, Building Careers."

"Recognizing the increasing importance of internships for our students and their future careers, (California University President) Dr. (Angelo) Armenti launched this program to increase the quantity and enhance the quality of internships for our students. More than 2,000 students are involved in internships and other types of experimental education each year."

"I'm not sure that enough students are aware of the program," Harbulak said. "But they need to look into this and other programs that can help them. They need to learn what's there and how it can help prepare you for the future. You have to help yourself, you have to take the initiative to become involved."

Primm agreed. Under her supervision, the Internship Center has grown tremendously, boasting 187 new employers and 561 internship listings online since July 2005.

"Students should begin preparing for an internship and a career through the university's Career Advantage program when they are incoming freshmen," Primm said.

Career Advantage takes students through a series of steps such as career exploration, job shadowing, informational interviewing, resume preparation, mock interviews and cooperative education.

"All these steps will well position the student for both an internship and future employment. They can find internships on their own, through the faculty members, family and friends, or through the Internship Center's online system, InternLink," Primm said. "Through InternLink, students can search hundreds of internship postings. There is no doubt that the student who is proactive and starts early lands the most meaningful internships."

Primm said internships benefit the university and the larger community as employers "become partners in education" with California University.

"They have an outstanding source of motivated pre-professionals and receive new perspectives from trained, enthusiastic students," Primm said. "Internships are also a cost-effective method of recruitment of potential employees. Employers have increased visibility and an enhanced image on campus and in the community."

That latter point is something that hits home with Krcelich.

"We appreciate our relationship with California University," he said. "And we would like to enhance and advance that alliance by making the students more aware of the Center in the Woods. We visualize ourselves as an intergenerational facility; that is, we are not here solely for senior citizens. We have educational programs (Expanding Horizons) that are open to people of all ages and we also have young people who volunteer their time and talents with many of our events. We welcome any input by young people like Melissa. We feel this is beneficial to everyone."

Primm said internships give students an "edge in the job market."

"One employer told me that he puts students who have done internships two years ahead (in experience) of other applicants," she said.

Primm also said a 2005 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey showed that 62.5 percent of college hires come to them from internship experience. The study also revealed that 75.9 percent said the primary focus of their internship program was to feed their college recruiting program, and employers converted 53 percent of their interns to full-time hires.

"In a 2004 NACE survey, employers ranked internship experience as the third most important criteria when hiring, after major and interviewing skills," Primm said. "Internships are great for students and great for the economy. They are an investment in human capital."

Harbulak takes all of that to heart and combines it with a deep love for her mother, Mary Lou Harbulak, who is a consultant for organizational effectiveness at Allegheny Energy. Her mother, Harbulak emphasized, instilled many qualities in her, including a twist on the proverbial Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have others do unto you.

"She has always said if you want to gain respect, you have to give it," Harbulak said. "I try to follow that advice every day, especially at the Center in the Woods. My generation is stuck with a stigma ... that we are lazy, unmotivated and apathetic. I don't think that's true. I've had a job since I was 15. I do care about many issues and work toward finding solutions, and I try to respect everyone I meet.

"My mother is the major influence in my life, truly my role model," Harbulak added. "She raised my brother and me as a single parent and committed herself to realizing her goals. She is highly motivated. She earned her bachelor's from Seton Hill University and has been very successful and is respected by so many people. I can only hope to gain that kind of respect someday."

Trinity Savage - Pittsburgh Pirates

Internship Title: Human Resources Intern

How did you find your internship?

I found the internship on and as well as on the internship center’s website

What are your primary responsibilities/day-to-day activities?

  •   Assisting with all recruiting, hiring and training
  •   Updating and maintaining employee benefits packages
  •   Establishing employee relations and team building
  •   Assisting with organization development
  •   Creating/revising/maintaining office documents    
  •   Assist in implementing HR policies and procedures
  •   Establish and maintain administrative systems and processes
  •   Creating/revising/maintaining projects given
  •   Co-ordinate all recruitment activities and induction process for new hires

What is the best part of your internship?

The internship has been a great experience. It has taken all of the different aspects of human resources and management I have learned over my college experience and applied them in the best way possible. The best part of my internship is it reinforced my desire in human resources as a career. As well as the amazing opportunity to grow and expand my skill set within the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Would you recommend this internship to someone else?

Yes, Definitely 

A quote from you regarding your internship experience?

Everyone needs a little inspiration throughout their college career because we are so quick to second guess our decisions because they are so life altering. Having the right internship will not only show you not to second guess yourself but to embrace your decisions and run with them. 

Heather Slattery - World Kitchen LLC

Major: Human Resource Management
Internship placement: World Kitchen LLC

Your internship title: Human Resource Intern
How did you find your internship? 
Through a mass e-mail sent out by the Internship Center.

What are your primary responsibilities/day-to-day activities? 
Meet with all salary employees so as to update the Job Description for their particular position from the old format to the new updated one sent out by corporate. Assist with additional office duties such as: preparing spread sheets for scored Aptitude tests as well as Applicant Tracking Logs, creating files for new floor hires, filing papers, work with I-9’s, properly discarding outdated papers and other related activities.  
What is the best part of your internship?
Being able to talk to many knowledgeable individuals who are willing to help me learn, from any questions I have to allowing me to become exposed to many issues and activities going on within the plant, such as the extensive hiring process they just went through this summer. 
What are the top two things you have learned?
There have been so many; the biggest was I was able to learn about the positions within the plant and what functions are attached to that job position and how to take that knowledge and build an updated job description with the help of the salary employee. I was also able to sit in on interviews and see the entire hiring process. During interviews I got to hear how generic potential employees can be when answering questions and how hard it can be to read a person. 
Would you recommend this internship to someone else?
ABSOLUTELY!!  This has been by far the most outstanding part of my college career. The people at World Kitchen LLC have been phenomenally wonderful, they are so happy to help you and they really try to expose you to many issues and topics so as to help you learn and grow as a professional in your chosen major/field.
Not only are you getting to work in such a great environment you actually are apart of something unique and wonderful. The fact that this plant is one of the few fully functioning factories left in the area, and not to mention the ONLY company producing PYREX in the USA is really something special.
Getting the hands on experience and exposure to topics and issues within my major has been more educational and beneficial then any class I have taken. 
A quote from you regarding your internship experience?
Working in the Internship Center here at CAL U as a work study student I really thought I had a good understanding of how important internships are, that was until I got an internship. Getting the hands on experience and exposure to topics and issues within my major has been more educational and beneficial then any class I have taken during my college career. I am already looking forward to doing another internship next semester!

Kelly Popp - Auberle

Major: Human Resource Management
Internship Placement Name:  Auberle, McKeesport, PA
Internship Title: Human Resources Intern
How did you find internship? WestPACS Job/Internship Fair
What are your primary responsibilities/day-to-day activities?
Oversee placement/paperwork of current and incoming interns.
Schedule interviews
Check references
Complete check requests
Process/track required clearances and trainings
Take photos for ID badges
Many other things too!
What is the best part of your internship?
Interacting with so many different people each day.
What are the top two things you have learned?
Confidentiality is a MUST.  HR is so much more than hiring and firing!
Would you recommend this internship to someone else?
A quote from you regarding your internship experience.
I learned so much while working at Auberle!  I was able to work independently but my efforts contributed greatly to the Auberle team.  I enjoyed participating and developing my skills.  The staff was great to work with and everyone was willing to be patient and answer any questions that I had.  I would definitely recommend Auberle to students looking to have an excellent internship experience!