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Student Spotlight

Lauren Kelly and Deonna Gandy

Lauren Kelly and Deonna Gandy

Marketing duo take on internship at Highmark

July 28, 2014

If you need proof that B&E is living up to its mission of providing its students with the skills, tools and values required to win in the global marketplace, just sit down and have a chat with marketing students Lauren Kelly and Deonna Gandy. Encouraging them to share their experiences with you will be a piece of cake, as they're just about the most outgoing and friendly young women you could ever hope to meet.

Lauren hails from Morgantown, West Virginia, and plans to graduate next May. She has held a number of leadership positions within Chi Omega and is a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success. 

Deonna, who plans to graduate in December 2015, is a Pittsburgh native. She, too, has held leadership roles, including president of the National Society of College Scholars, president-elect of the WVU Residence Hall Association, and serving as a  leadWell Peer Mentor. She is also a student ambassador for the WVU Honors College.

These bright young women are spending their summer in Pittsburgh interning in the Small Group Sales Department at Highmark, the nation's third-largest integrated health care delivery and financing network. The company and its subsidiaries and affiliates serve 35 million individuals nationwide. As such, it's a multifaceted corporation with seemingly endless possibilities, which both students found very appealing.

Here, the ladies help small employers (under 100 employees) near and far renew or enroll in healthcare insurance.

From adjusting to lengthy commutes and public transportation routes to dressing professionally to sharpening their business communication and technological skills and putting networking skills to good use, the gals are having a wonderful learning experience. Every day is something new and, accordingly, they have learned to think on their feet in order to respond to changing deadlines.

Highmark's program has enabled them to network with fellow interns from several other departments, providing Lauren and Deonna with a view of how the work they complete in their specific department fits in with the company's big picture.

The interview with Deonna and Lauren was interwoven with laughter. It was so apparent that these young women were elated with the opportunity they've been given, and given their level of comfort with one another, it didn't take long to realize the two were quite close. So perhaps what was most surprising was the fact that, despite being in the same program at B&E for years, Deonna and Lauren were perfect strangers until day one of the internship.

"We weren't friends before this internship," Lauren explained. But the first day they decided they "didn't want to be competitive. We wanted to be a team. And that's how we tackle our projects."

"It's scary when you hear that it's going to be two people and you'll have to be working with someone. It's hard for people to work together," Deonna added. "But Lauren and I make a great team. I have learned that businesses really value teamwork – how can you cooperate and work together? It has definitely helped us to have each other, because together we can conquer all. I don't know what it is, but our chemistry is amazing."

They said this chemistry was evident to them right away when they attended Highmark's internship kickoff event at the beginning of the summer. The ladies agreed that they instantly realized they had something in common: they felt they were more prepared than many of their fellow interns from other schools.

"When we were first interacting with people, we were outgoing and charismatic. I definitely feel as though our inner Mountaineer had a lot to do with that," Deonna said, smile wide.

Lauren and Deonna put in the hard work required to land the internship at Highmark. But both ladies also credited B&E's Center for Career Development for helping them prepare by way of career fairs, weekly B&E Career Links emails which is how Deonna located the intern position at Highmark) and resume building seminars. The classroom education has also played a meaningful role.

"It's definitely helpful to have the B&E curriculum that we've had," Deonna said, noting that the required computer science course, as well as business communication with Dr. Li Wang, have been very helpful. "That stuff that you put in the back of your head, it comes forward in a situation like this," she said.

"Sometimes you wonder, ‘How much is this going to apply to what I do in the workforce?' but it has helped so much," Lauren added. 

The young women also named several B&E faculty who have made meaningful impressions on them up to this point in their collegiate careers.

"My professors have helped me tremendously," Deonna said. " Dr. (Presha) Neidermeyer has helped me to gain confidence. (The professors) really want the best for you, and that's hard to find in a lot of major universities. But I feel it at WVU."

Lauren explained that teamwork and projects in classes with Dr. Paula Fitzgerald and Dr. Michael Walsh have been useful, and that she has been able to implement concepts learned in the classroom while at Highmark. She also felt that B&E's  emphasis on ethics was beneficial.

"Highmark is very much into ethics and integrity," Lauren said. "I have seen the parallels between what ( Dr. David Cale taught in the ethics class) and what you see within this corporation. I think we will be able to take that back to B&E and try to be an example (to other students.)"

Although Deonna and Lauren felt prepared thanks to the skills, tools, values and resources at B&E, they both agreed that learning in the classroom and learning in a business setting are very different animals. In fact, that's why B&E places such a large emphasis on experiential learning opportunities, so that students can experience firsthand how theory is relevant in the corporate world.

"You pay for your education, and in my opinion, internships are the best way to get the most for your buck," Deonna said.

Beyond the numerous benefits of experiential learning, these young women mentioned that they also enjoy the aspect of glamour that accompanies working for a large corporation in a big city.

"You see on movies and TV shows people going to work in the city. But once you're really there, and you experience those long (work) days, two-hours of commuting…" Deonna paused. "It really hits you: I'm actually that business woman I've aspired to be."