News and Insights

From Covid to Careers: Class of 2024 FINN Education Interns Share Thoughts as They Experience their First Graduation

June 17, 2024

Pictured above left to right: Scottlynn Ballard, Murray State University, ‘24; Emily Eng, Penn State University, ‘24; Ryan Chandler, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), ‘24.

Graduations are milestone moments in our lives: they mark both endings and beginnings—the successful completion of our studies and the start of a new life chapter. For the Class of 2024, college graduation is especially precious. Four years ago, as the world shut down under a global pandemic, these seniors watched their high school graduations via slideshows and Zoom links and commenced their first college semester virtually, isolated and socially distanced.

Yet, they persevered. This month, each walked the stage – for the first time – in a new, post-pandemic normal that is once again anything but normal.

We asked Scottlynn Ballard, Ryan Chandler, and Emily Eng, each of whom has served as Higher Education/PK12 Practice interns, to reflect on their time at FINN Partners. In the following Q&A they look back and share what they’ve learned about the PR industry, education and themselves as part of the COVID Class now entering the working world.

College + COVID

How does it feel to graduate? What’s next for you?

  • Ryan Chandler (RC): Having a real college graduation ceremony means more to me than just receiving a diploma. To know that I finally get to walk across the stage and celebrate my accomplishments – high school and now – feels surreal. It has served as a reminder of the importance of cherishing every moment, and the unpredictable nature of life, embracing change. Graduation feels deeply bittersweet, but I have come to realize that this is just the beginning, and there is so much more ahead for me to look forward to.
  • Scottlynn Ballard (SB): It’s surreal. After having a scaled down, virtual high school graduation to now, where I’ll get to celebrate such an occasion with the people I’ve grown up with, those that have changed my life—it feels like closure. I once thought that all we’d ever do is interact from a distance, always masked. So, to see people on campus relearn how to connect with people and ourselves, it’s awe-inspiring. It makes me proud.
  • Emily Eng (EE): Looking back on my four years at Penn State, I feel immensely grateful for the community – the mentors, professors, advisors, and peers that I have met throughout this journey. I’m excited to experience a milestone that marks the beginning of my career and step through an open door to my journey and growth ahead. I’m especially honored to have been chosen as the Advertising/Public Relations Student Marshal, where I will represent my major during commencement and walk alongside my professor who has cheered me on since day one.

Think back to when you first started college. What have you learned about public relations? What surprised you about the field?

  • SB: When I first got to college, I’d never heard of public relations: I just knew I wanted to be in a field that focused on communications. What surprised me—and still does even now—is the sheer versatility of this industry. I’ve been able to bridge so many of my interests through my internship here, from history to social justice and advocacy. Education has been the great equalizer for me. And most importantly, I get to dive right into the human storytelling that I love so much.
  • RC: When I first started college, public relations was all new to me. Sophomore year, I switched from the business school into the School of Communication, with a major in public relations, and embarked on this new educational path. From learning the foundations of public relations from my dedicated professors and university peers, to having the opportunity to see communications practices implemented at work each day, I have seen many angles and perspectives of the industry. I was most surprised by the intricacies and complexities that every different project requires, and understanding the need for attention to detail and responsiveness in an industry that is ever changing – by the minute.
  • EE: When I applied to Penn State, I knew I wanted to go into public relations because my impression of the field was that I could write, be creative and most importantly to me, help people and communities. One of my favorite experiences from high school was the three years I researched, created and taught educational workshops for girls in STEM. I was happy to learn that public relations was a way for me to continue exploring all of these passions—research, strategy, writing and collaboration–and I continue to enjoy learning about the vastness of public relations.

On well-being

What are some takeaways/lessons you had from COVID-19 for navigating your personal and professional wellbeing?

  • EE: The power of virtual coffees and teas! My first semester at Penn State was virtual, and I understood firsthand how in school and the workplace, feelings of loneliness often increased. Whether it was a 30-minute virtual coffee or bi-weekly check-in, setting time to meet with others – friends, family, or colleagues – in the virtual space is a perfect way to foster a sense of belonging, caring for your personal and professional wellbeing. During my time on the FINN team, I loved being able to get to know colleagues and learn from their insights, and these are moments that I know I will carry with me as I continue to grow personally and professionally.
  • RC: Navigating through the changes brought by COVID-19 was a profound learning journey. My biggest lesson was realizing that this was an uncharted territory for everyone, which brought a sense of solidarity as everyone had to adapt to the new norms. I learned to embrace solo walks around the neighborhood (with a mask!) and virtual meetings provided a unique opportunity to connect with individuals, which allowed me to gain valuable personal and professional insights. My favorite takeaway was the day we were able to all unite in person, embodying the resilience and adaptability we have demonstrated during such a challenging time!

The importance of DE&I /advocacy

How do you think Gen Z’s value of DE&I and advocacy impacted the industry/workplace?

  • EE: It has been inspiring to see both the external and internal movement of DE&I. Companies increasingly seem to understand that if they want to appeal to Gen Z consumers, they need to authentically reflect values and advocacy for causes important to Gen Z. In turn, I feel fortunate to be graduating at a time where companies are recognizing and tapping into the support PR provides for amplifying their DE&I and advocacy values and initiatives. Just as FINN’s Partners for Diversity program provided mentorship and shadowing opportunities, I hope I can do the same for other rising students.
  • RC: With companies implementing DEI initiatives and committees that ensure equality and equity in industries, it paves the way for Gen Z to enter the workforce and join in those efforts. As more Gen Z individuals enter the workforce, they will help lead advocacy projects and efforts to their fullest potential. I plan to keep diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of my priorities throughout my career.
  • SB: There is power in collective advocacy: we saw it in 2020, and continue to after as people hold corporations accountable for what they say and do. Organizations like Hold the PRess were created out of a need to evaluate how many in the PR industry truly pursued their initial DE&I initiatives in the years after 2020. There’s a demand for transparency and truth, one that’s luckily being heard. That kind of integrity is important, and it should be reflected in the work we do.

On lived experiences + background knowledge

FINN’s Higher Education/PK-12 team brings people together from many different backgrounds. What kinds of experiences have you had before coming to FINN and since?

  • EE: My passion for education started in high school, when I was invited to research, create, and facilitate educational programs and workshops for K-12 girls interested in STEM. From there, I hoped to enter the communications field with a specific focus on DE&I and helping communities. I continued to become involved in the education and DE&I space at Penn State! I also began building my PR professional experience as an employee engagement intern (which was also very DE&I focused) and writing intern for Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development.
  • RC: Before coming to FINN, I had worked as a social media marketing and events intern and was also at Virginia Tech majoring in Public Relations with a minor in Event and Experience Management. I thought it was cool that the FINN education team had individuals from many backgrounds, which was one of the reasons why I was so interested in working with FINN in general.
  • SB: All my life, I’ve always loved talking to people. In college, I started my first semester as a student reporter at 91.3 WKMS-FM, our NPR-member station at Murray State. My love for community shaped my journalism, and it continued even when I transitioned into print commentary at The Murray State News. Despite Murray State being a PWI (predominantly white institution), I’ve worked hard to showcase the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in every space I touched, from history to literature. This year, that love cultivated into a new role as Coordinating Officer of Multicultural Initiatives at our Residential College Association. At the core of it all, I value human stories; it’s what connects us to each other.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming communications students and future FINN interns?

  • RC: Ask all the questions and be proactive. To your team, that shows your willingness to learn and your ability to stay ahead of the game. I was always extremely validated in the questions I asked to make sure I was on the right track and understood what we were talking about.
  • SB: Take every opportunity you can to learn. The world is built on communicating; every idea you share with someone requires some level of that. So, whether it’s education, advocacy or corporate, take the opportunity. You just might love it.
  • EE: The magic of the communications field is that every day is usually different, and I think a big part of navigating this is truly embracing your love for learning. My advice for how to do so is to say ‘yes’ to as much as you can and ask any questions that you have! Saying ‘yes’ opens so many doors to discovering passions you have, and having transparency about not knowing how to do something at first means there is a great opportunity to learn how you can complete a task in a way that is most helpful to the team.

TAGS: Education