Kaphil Mentzer: The DC Connection - Fall 2004 Ivy Leaf Magazine

Ivy Leaf - Fall 2004

Kaphil Mentzer: The DC Connection

Senior Kaphil Mentzer took a huge step when she accepted an internship with the Environmental Protection Agency for the summer of 2004. But this was nothing compared to the leap she took in the spring of 2000 when she enrolled in Penn State Altoona.

With three children to raise and having been out of school for a number of years, Kaphil Mentzer was not the most likely person to step onto Penn State Altoona's campus in the spring of 2000. Yet, she most likely was one of the more determined students in her class, having as her goal a highly important one – to be a role model for her children.

A graduate from Central High School in her hometown of Roaring Spring, PA, Mentzer's academic goal originally was to get an associate degree in information sciences and technology (IST). She knew from experience that she had a natural aptitude for computers and the fact that there was a market demand for graduates in this field solidified her decision. But once she got started, she couldn't stop.

She developed a close relationship with Professor Charlotte McConn, her professor for microcomputer applications in business. It was Professor McConn who asked her why she was stopping with a two-year degree and challenged her to keep going for her baccalaureate degree. Mentzer accepted the challenge and will graduate in May 2005 with a bachelor of science degree in business with a minor in entrepreneurship.

"The professors at Penn State Altoona really made me work harder and pursue greater goals. They helped me look at my employability and convinced me that I'd go further with a four-year degree. I thank Professor McConn for pushing me toward that," reflects Mentzer.

Being an adult student, Mentzer felt that she had a greater appreciation for her education and its value in the real world. "It's not easy going to school full-time with children, and all the demands that naturally come with parenthood. You have to really want that education and make it worth your while," explains Mentzer. "I started out trying to work while taking classes, but I made the decision to commit to my education 100% and took classes year-round. I don't settle for convenience, but rather pack my schedule to maximize every minute."

Although an internship is required by her degree program, her single-minded dedication to her education caused Mentzer to start thinking early on about how she could make the most of this experience.

"I was so excited to do an internship. I spent an entire year thinking about what I wanted to do, what would give me the best experience, the best connections."

She saw an ad for Penn State's Washington Program and knew right away that it was for her. Established in 1995, the Washington Program was started to give students from all areas of Penn State a complete Washington experience, including internship placement and credit, housing, and special events and programs.

Mentzer has the distinction of being Penn State Altoona's first participant in this internship program. Working with internship faculty advisor Cynthia Wood, instructor in business administration, Mentzer went to D.C. in the summer of 2004, performing information technology (IT) services for the EPA.

States Wood, "I have had the pleasure of working with Mentzer both in the classroom and in preparation for her internship. Her dedication to learning and her desire to make the most of her education are what impress me most. She approached obtaining an internship with much determination and focus. Her hard work and dedication have been a great example for me to use with other students. She is a strong student who offers a lot to her peers through her life experiences. She is a great role model for other students to follow."

While Mentzer came to the internship program prepared and ready to go, other students may need some assistance. "I try to help other students understand the value of an internship," states Wood. "I tell them to pick a state, get on-line, and let's see what's there. The possibilities are limited only by their own creativity."

"But," instructs Wood, "they have to do the legwork. Options become limited if they don't plan ahead, write the essays and commit the time and the work necessary to get a truly valuable internship experience."

The internship experience exceeded Mentzer's expectations. "I loved my internship at the EPA and, through it, I made so many incredible connections. My 'sponsor,' Mary Louise Ulhrig, was a Penn Stater. She'd often walk me down the hall at the EPA and introduce me to the other Penn Staters. It's incredible how many Penn State alums are out there. It was so easy to start up a conversation with them, knowing we had something in common."

Mentzer's internship provided her with 6 credits, a paycheck, and a wealth of experience. "I made training videos for the EPA and taught classes for them, helping employees transition from Word Perfect to the new Microsoft Word software. And they treated me so well. They celebrated my birthday and threw me a going-away party. I wasn't an undervalued intern; I was appreciated and given substantive work."

Mentzer made other Penn State contacts through Keith Fledderman, Penn State's Washington Program coordinator. Fledderman is a Penn State employee, living and networking in D.C. so that he can link employers with Penn State interns. It was Fledderman who helped Mentzer focus on her interests and goals and found her the internship with the EPA's IT department. Fledderman coordinated social events to connect the Washington Program interns with Penn State alumni in the area to help them network. And through Ulhrig, her EPA sponsor, she learned how to find a job in the D.C. market and the government.

When she graduates in May, Mentzer intends to return to D.C. and put her experience to work. While she could return to the EPA, she's keeping her eyes open to all of the options to which she was exposed last summer.

My internship was a life-changing experience; it wasn't just a course to check off my list of requirements. Sure there were some short-term costs; I missed my children terribly all week and the weekends with them were never long enough. And between my daily commute and weekend trips home, my gasoline costs were sky high!

But the long-term gain is limitless. I feel that I symbolize the fact that life is ever-changing and one must rise to the occasion. We are life-long learners; education does not stop at high school. I tell my children every day that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. By going to D.C., I showed my children – and myself – that the only barriers present are the ones we build for ourselves. - Kaphil Mentzer

The Washington Program

Established in 1995, the Washington Program was started to give students from all Penn State areas a complete D.C. experience, including internship placement and credit, housing, and special events and programs. Over the years, these students have worked for organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, CNN, the Nature Conservancy, the office of Sen. Arlen Specter and the Organization of American States.

In 1998, the program expanded to include its first academic component. The Communications and Democracy Semester, structured specifically for students in the fields of communications and political science, offers Penn State coursework on-site for the Washington interns. Some students may take up to 18 credits of classes taught in Washington by Penn State instructors as well as local professionals.

Based on the success of the Communications and Democracy Semester, the Leadership in Agriculture Semester was added to the program in 1999. These academic programs allow students to intern while keeping up with their academic requirements.

The Washington Program is open to juniors and seniors in any major. Sophomores are considered on a case-by-case basis. Interested students participate in a thorough selection process. Students are selected based on interest, academic standing, writing samples, references, and an interview. If selected, students are placed in internships according to their majors, interests, experience, and career goals.