Follow the Yellow-Brick Road: Internships and the Road to Professional Success

Megan Burpo, Virginia Tech University PRSSA Chapter member.
Megan Burpo, Virginia Tech University PRSSA Chapter member.

The summer internship: every college student’s biggest dream and worst nightmare. Interning is presented to college students as the next step in building your resume to prepare for the job market, or as I like to think about it, the next step down the yellow-brick road to the Emerald City, the capital of “success.” With the checklist mentality often adopted by the millennial generation, the coveted internship has slipped into a line on a resume instead of a launch into independence and maturity.

I knew that this summer was the year I was supposed to find the perfect internship, make the right connections and ultimately be hired after my senior year. In one of many late-night panics I came across a D.C. start-up that was looking for a public relations intern. The description sounded interesting, the interview went fantastic and the proposed projects gave me more creativity and experience than any coffee-fetching intern could have hoped for. I was excited for the opportunity and the ability for my peers and future interviewers to be impressed by me. I was on my way down the yellow-brick road.

With three heel clicks I was off in my pencil skirt and ruby red slippers toward my new internship.The first day on the job can be a little overwhelming; you have new people to meet, a new routine to grasp and a computer login that never works. This first day however came with the realization that I, a third-year public relations student, was the entire public relations team, the sole leader of the company’s rebranding efforts and the organizer of their first major event.

While I got over the shock of this responsibility, my boss was busy giving me the login to social media, the domain to the website I was to create and the media contact list to improve. I wasn’t learning by observing, I was teaching. I wasn’t giving an opinion for practice, I was giving an opinion that affected the success and future of this start-up and its nonprofit clients.

The D.C. metro’s inability to run on time gave me a chance to comprehend just what I had gotten myself into: advising a nonprofit with no prior public relations efforts. I fished through my class notes, textbooks, past internship materials, researched new articles and prepared to pull my weight. Two and a half months later the company succeeded in all of its rebranding, website and event goals.

The internship forced me to learn a lot about nonprofit public relations very quickly. I made mistakes; I winged-it; I was frustrated; I loved it. I was forced to open my eyes to what an internship is: a trial run of the not-perfect and ever-changing real world. I wasn’t surrounded by a bounty of talented public relations professionals but by innovative peers from diverse backgrounds. Maybe my resume doesn’t show a top agency but it shows a level of authenticity I didn’t know existed within thirteen weeks. I am proud of my education, extracurriculars and experiences; but I am most proud that my road leads to the Emerald City, the capital of “dedication.”

Be sure to visit the PRSSA Internship Center if you are looking to add experience to your resume.

What are some of the most rewarding internship experiences you have had during college?

Megan Burpo is a senior public relations major and professional writing minor at Virginia Tech. You can connect and see more of Megan’s writing on LinkedIn, or she can be contacted at

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