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Nontraditional students find their Customer Service Leadership internship vital to achieve their career goals

Published: February 15, 2022 Author: Kim Barlag

A group of nontraditional students—all with different career goals—found their path to a bachelor’s degree with the online Customer Service Leadership (CSL) program, and their internship class helped them transition to new job opportunities and leadership roles.

Donnie Brown, program coordinator and associate professor of instruction, explained that since many of his students are already working, the CONS 4915 - Internship: Customer Service Leadership class needs to be ever evolving and flexible. 

“Traditional internship placements may not be ideal for someone whose career goals are growth within their own company or a complete transition in industries,” said Brown. “Three of the students who recently completed this class were nontraditional students, some with families, working fulltime while facing the challenges of completing their degree.”

All the students read “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” a book that helps people maneuver through their emotions and work with others in their workplace. But each of the students had completely different backgrounds and career aspirations, so Brown worked with them individually to determine a semester-long project with specific goals to help them succeed. 

Kelly Gerardi has been working in customer service for American Electric Power for more than 18 years. She has an associate degree in communications and felt that the CSL program aligned with her goal to earn a bachelor’s degree. 

“Being able to apply what I am learning in a real-time manner was an exciting idea as opposed to thinking about what I could do someday in the future when I was done with school,” said Gerardi. “Within my company, I hope to move into more of a defined leadership role and inspire employees to have independent and positive thinking, as opposed to complacency.” 

Her internship project included collaborating with a mentor from her company. He added her to a few special project teams so she could observe how he ran his teams from a management perspective. 

Gerardi, who graduates this spring, said, “This class, and especially Donnie, has prepared me for my career goals by reminding me that we are all learning new things all the time. There are many different management styles, and there are many different attributes that hiring managers look for in prospective employees. It is important to know what you want and not just be what they want.”

Greg Suprun originally attended Ohio University from ’91-’96 and was just short of graduating with a degree in recreation when he instead decided to start a career as a truck driver. Now, hoping for a career change, Suprun decided on the CSL program as the quickest route to a bachelor’s degree and a new career in outdoor recreation.

For his internship project, Suprun played the role of an adventure consultant for a backpacking and adventure camp outfitter. He researched and selected a company that would be an ideal place to work in the future, and he put together a consulting handbook. 

“I was able to experience all aspects of the operation and really got a feel for what the company is all about,” said Suprun. “I think I learned quite a bit from this project.”

“Greg’s handbook was impressive,” said Brown. “He had a mentor who guided him through the business aspects. And he provided a full budget in handbook.”

Suprun, who graduated this past December, said, “During my intern class I spoke with Donnie about every other week. We discussed the project, as well as a lot about customer service and how it related to my project. The information I got from talking with Donnie was invaluable. I feel like I am ready to succeed in the field when I make my career change.”

Another student, Andee Wildenthaler, was transitioning to a CEO position with the Gallion Community YMCA. Brown helped her plan a project with key elements to support this transition and help her succeed.

“Andee recognized she had things to learn,” said Brown, “but also she recognized what it meant to be a leader. Her project helped her create a strategic plan to rise to her new level of leadership responsibilities.”

As non-traditional students, all said the path to their degree wasn’t easy but worth it.  

“I advise to stick with it and persevere,” said Gerardi. “I am preparing to graduate in April, and while it’s been a massive challenge, had I quit all the times I felt pressure, I would not be near the finish line, yet wishing I was.”