#SoaringToSuccess: Paige Stilts '23

Elmira College students complete community engagement hours and a career-related internship before graduating to help build their career networks and give them important hands-on experiences. Throughout the year, we will highlight how Elmira College students are using these experiences to prepare themselves for their future careers in a series called #soaringtosuccess.

Our first story this year focuses on Paige Stilts ’23, a Biology major, who spent her summer at Hershey Entertainment and Resorts completing the 12-week Hershey Park Leadership Development Program. She chose the program because she knew it would put her outside of her comfort zone.

“I didn’t know anyone else going and I had never been to Hershey Park, only Chocolate World,” she explained. “But the focus of this internship was leadership, and I was excited to improve my skills in this area.”

As part of the program, Hershey held twelve workshops focused on career skills like etiquette, networking, leadership, hospitality, and major-specific topics. The workshops were led by subject matter experts including some Hershey executives as well as other local business leaders. The interns were split into three groups so that they could ask questions and have lively discussions with each other.

“One of the workshops covered diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Stilts. “A big takeaway for me was learning that we sometimes need to step back and think about who we are working with. It’s important to realize we all come from different backgrounds and that affects how we work together. It’s so important when you get frustrated to take that step back and think and then work on what may be driving the misunderstanding.”

The workshop on etiquette gave pointers on how to have successful business meals and helped prepare the interns for the final workshop, which was a special luncheon. At the luncheon, the interns were grouped by their majors and sat with business leaders in roles related to their future careers. Stilts and a few other Biology majors sat with people from the health industry and a Hershey employee, getting the chance to network and show off their newly-learned conversation skills.

When Stilts wasn’t in the workshops, most of her time was spent working in the Park. Students in the Hershey internship program are able to choose the area in which they would like to work so Stilts chose food service since that wasn’t something she had done before.

The park is divided into six areas. Stilts worked in Area Five, most often working at a stand called Rita’s, but she shifted among the restaurants and stands, going wherever she was most needed.

As a college senior, and with her professional demeanor, Stilts was often trusted to run stands on her own or to help manage at a restaurant when a manager had to leave.

Although the work and heat were grueling, employment came with a few perks, including unlimited access to the park rides. Employees also earn park tickets for working a certain number of days, so Stilts was able to invite her family to come and attend the park for free. She also attended after-hour parties for the employees, where employees were treated to concessions and evening fun.

Stilts said working in the park complimented the workshops because she could directly apply what she was learning in class. In her role, she mingled with some of the interns, who were from all over the world. She became close with an intern from Louisiana as well as some of the international interns. She also worked with high school students earning their summer money and full-time park employees.

Working alongside this diverse group of people with different motivations and experiences taught her important lessons that Stilts plans to carry into a future career in the sciences.

“Leadership is an essential skill within the sciences. But I also gained a lot of experience working with a team. At Hershey, it was different from other settings I have been in. My supervisors were either the same age or younger. It was clear to see how one to two people affect the dynamics of the team. My teammates and I learned a lot about how to motivate others, how to best communicate, and how to support each other,” she said. “I was impressed to see that age had little to do with leadership abilities and that it is more about what a person brings with them, like a willingness to learn and work, and the ability to communicate with others.”

And Stilts took the experience to heart, in theory and in practice. She was awarded the “Outstanding Employee Award,” on her second to last day in the program.

“I was very honored to receive this distinction,” she said.

Among the challenges Stilts and her colleagues faced was managing the impact of a big change at the Park. The Park went cashless. This often wasn’t an issue but sometimes parents would drop their children off for a day with only cash.

“It was hard explaining the change to an eight-year-old,” she said. “But it was also really rewarding to be able to give a kid an ice cream cone and see the smile on their face. It made it worth it.”

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