Liberal Arts Student Lands Full-Time Job Through Chapel Executive Internship

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania — Dan Risser had the opportunity to combine his two majors — political science and labor and human resources — through a summer internship at Southwest Airlines, thanks to funding he received through the Virginia Todd Chapel Executive Internship Program in the liberal arts college.

Chapel’s Executive Internship Program supports internship experiences for successful liberal arts students seeking high-level career development opportunities in the private sector. The program was created by Virginia “Jinnie” Todd Chapel and her husband, John, with leadership donations creating an endowment now valued at $2.5 million. Virginia Todd Chapel graduated from Penn State in 1965 with a major in English.

This year, the program offered 22 high-achieving students a $5,000 stipend for their internship experience.

Risser, a fourth-year student from York, Pa., worked last summer as an intern in the Southwest Airlines leadership training program in Dallas, and he will return after graduating in December to take a full-time position. full.

“There is such a war to keep and retain highly skilled talent, not just in the airline industry, but in all industries to begin with,” Risser said.

In an effort to better retain talent, Risser explained that last April Southwest Airlines created a new department dedicated to supporting things like job architecture, succession planning and leadership development across the board. the company.

During her internship, Risser worked as part of a team targeting leadership development, where the team would identify high performers within the company and provide them with resources to help them succeed at the next level. leadership.

“We work on the cutting edge of leadership and employee development,” Risser said. “Everything we do has never really been tried before, so it’s a really exciting environment.”

Risser said that in addition to keeping quality workers, Southwest is also focused on keeping costs low. He added that Southwest’s focus on keeping good people and reducing turnover contributes to the “culture” of the company.

“We have such a unique company culture of fun and friendliness, and one of our main pillars and key beliefs is to not take yourself too seriously, but to take your job seriously,” Risser said. “It’s just been a surreal experience.”

Risser explained that the duality of his degrees benefited him greatly in his role as an intern, as his department encompassed both political science and human resources.

“A lot of political science is built around relationship building, why people act the way they do, and part of my education about soft skills, critical thinking and relationship building,” said said Risser, “While HR is a little so difficult skill, business acumen. What keeps employees engaged? How do you optimize the workforce?

Risser said the dichotomy of his two fields of study has helped him solve problems that require both critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as understanding how to work and live with others. people and engage the culture more.

“I attribute all of my success to the College of Liberal Arts,” Risser said.

Risser’s internship also provided the opportunity to travel nationwide, where, with funding from Chapel’s Executive Internship Program, Risser was able to travel every weekend of his internship, except for one, which he used to explore Dallas.

While traveling, Risser said he was proud to know that in his role he had played a “small part in keeping these planes flying”.

“Being able to see the fruits of your labor and the purpose of what you do every time you travel, as well as happy passengers, I think that added a really special element. Like, ‘Okay, I can be a part of that. this side.’

Risser applied to intern at the chapel after his sister, a Penn State alumnus, recommended it as a great way to make connections and access funding. He said the funding was the only way he could afford his move across the country, as well as support his travel opportunities with Southwest.

“The funding allowed me to really see the nation from coast to coast, from Seattle to New York to Puerto Rico, and really allowed me to make the most of this summer and all the opportunities that have arisen,” Risser said.

Although it was “bittersweet” to reach the end of his internship in the Southwest this summer, Risser will return to Dallas in December to pursue a full-time position in his current role.

“It’s been so rewarding – all the relationships and soft skills I’ve learned, whether it’s communication or working in a professional environment, but also just engaging with the culture of the South- West.”

This is the fifth in a series of stories about liberal arts students participating in Chapel Executive Internships this summer. Students interested in applying for a chapel leadership internship for the fall should apply before the September 1 deadline through the Liberal Arts Career Enrichment Network.

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