(Editor’s note: This is the 11th in a series of articles about Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications students completing summer internships.)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Technology has changed a lot since 2011, when an IBM super-computer named Watson appeared on “Jeopardy” and beat some of the game show’s best players. Penn State student Anthony Colucci remembers the episode well. He was just 12 years old at the time.
Today, he is seeing IBM’s advancements firsthand thanks to a summer internship with the global company’s corporate communications team. Starting in May, it didn’t take long for the psychology and public relations double major to realize that IBM is far more than a computer company making trivia machines.
“People know Watson, but don’t understand its capabilities. It’s a different type of artificial intelligence than Alexa or Siri,” he said. “It’s processing all kinds of data and making predictions that are useful in the workplace.”
Then there’s IBM’s work in quantum computing, cloud capabilities and other technologies that are changing the world. It’s ever-evolving.
“Think about technology five, 10, 50 years from now,” said Colucci, who is also a Paterno Fellow in the College of Liberal Arts as well as a Schreyer Honors Scholar. “That’s what I find interesting.”
Just like technology, media has evolved tremendously over the past decade. The ability to innovate and stay ahead of the curve is vital for professionals and their companies. It’s a part of the industry that fascinates Colucci most.
“I am excited to learn more and grow with the industry,” he said. “The things that worked the last few years will be much different when I’m starting my career.”
But like most communications jobs, it all starts with writing. That’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
“When I meet potential interns, the first question I ask is, ‘Can you write?’” said Brandi Boatner, social and influencer communications lead at IBM. “No matter what area you go into, you’ll need to be able to write.”
Colucci has been honing his writing skills for years. While attending Saint Joseph’s High School in Metuchen, New Jersey, he covered the school’s nationally ranked sports teams for the school newspaper and, as a senior, two local newspapers.
“I am excited to learn more and grow with the industry. The things that worked the last few years will be much different when I’m starting my career.”
— Anthony Colucci, psychology and public relations student, Penn State
When he got to Penn State, Colucci signed up for the student-run news website Onward State. He has written hundreds of articles, and has been a staff writer, social media manager and news editor. This year, he will run the operation as the site’s managing editor.
“Onward State is how I’ve spent most of my time in college,” he said. “I love the excitement of finding a story that may not be out there in the open and sharing it with people. I like bringing stories to life.”
A highlight was a 9,000-word oral history about wrestling coach Cael Sanderson’s arrival at Penn State 10 years ago — a moment that shook the wrestling world. The article took nearly the entire semester to report and write. It involved more than a dozen interviews and extensive research.
The hard work paid off. Feedback was positive from both casual and passionate fans of the team, and it was one of Onward State’s most-read articles last semester.
In the fall, Colucci will continue to write stories, and his interests have expanded, which is what drew him to the public relations major in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. He found that public relations opened the door to a variety of areas, like business, technology and research. Colucci is specifically interested in the way psychology fits into crafting messages and reaching audiences.
In January, these things came together in an ad he saw on LinkedIn for the IBM internship. He applied.
In February, Boatner traveled from New York City to University Park to deliver a keynote speech for PRSSA. That’s where the two met.
“We talked for about 30 or 40 minutes about the job, about IBM and about public relations,” Colucci said. “She promoted the company in a great way and it made me excited to work here.”
During their meeting, Colucci mentioned to Boatner that he had applied for an internship at IBM and — not knowing it was in her department — asked if she had advice about the position.
Boatner said IBM looks for interns who write well, think critically and challenge the norm. She said Colucci checked all the boxes.
“Interns also need to be intellectually curious,” she said. “If you’re not curious about how things work and why, this may not be the place for you.”
Boatner added that IBM internships are the “real deal.” Interns work on strategic projects that impact business. This summer, Colucci has worked on large, multi-faceted IBM announcements. He has pitched media, wrote copy and executed detailed communication plans.
“Interns need to be completely capable of working on major projects,” Boatner said. “Colucci crushes it.”
Colucci had created communication plans for class assignments but creating real ones for IBM on his own was completely different and a valuable experience.
“These are skills that will be very important going forward when I’m getting a job,” he said. “I won’t have teachers like (assistant teaching professor) Tara Wyckoff guiding the way.”
Colucci credited faculty members and advisers in the Bellisario College for providing practical lessons and valuable guidance — adding that they’ve “always been willing to help and are super knowledgeable and friendly.”
That may be why Boatner was so impressed with the students she met during her visit to Penn State back in February. “I was blown away,” she said. “The kids at Penn State are so talented and invested in their careers. It was refreshing.” But Colucci stuck out. “We need more Anthonys,” Boatner said with a laugh.
This fall, Colucci will start his senior year. In addition to leading Onward State, he will start working on his Schreyer Honors College thesis, which will examine how different types of social media posts affect audience responses to a natural disaster.
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