Student Perspective: PhillyX moves UC students to a big city with big opportunities

Sarah Hojsak

If, like me, you have ever itched to experience something outside of the sometimes comforting, sometimes suffocating bubble that is the Ursinus College campus, moving to Philadelphia may not be the first thing that comes to mind.

To many students the city, though located just about 25 miles from Collegeville, rests on the horizon as the place they may move to after graduation, not during college. It seems like the place where the “real world” begins after we’ve all left our idyllic liberal arts campus nestled deep, deep in the suburbs.

But what if you could get a jump start on that real world experience? That’s the idea behind Ursinus’ Philadelphia Experience program, currently wrapping up its third semester-long run.

I’m a current participant in the program, and have been living in Philadelphia along with a small batch of fellow Ursinus students for the last three months. Since the Philadelphia Experience program is still relatively new and, as The Grizzly reported last spring, has struggled with a persistent bout of low interest, it remains somewhat of an enigma to UC students. I admittedly didn’t know much about the program before I rather impulsively signed on, but what I’ve learned about city life and the “real world” throughout its duration has been immense.

Instituted in Fall 2016, PhillyX (as the program is colloquially known) makes it a priority to push students outside of their comfort zones, using the city as a classroom and filling its agenda with hands-on and experiential learning. The academic component of the program is varied and engaging: Students may enroll in one or two classes taught by Ursinus professors, and choose additional classes from Drexel University’s undergraduate course catalogue. All students participate in “Philly 101,” which is essentially a crash course on the city’s history and culture, filled with guest speakers and field trips.

The program’s most exciting opportunity, though, comes in the form of internships. Most UC students have likely heard, whether from professors or from the Career and Professional Development Office, a lot about the benefits of completing internships before graduating. Not only are internships a great way of checking that ILE requirement off your to-do list, they also provide you with hands-on experience in a real work environment—it’s like a taste of the future, if you will.

And while internships can be a stark contrast to the comfortable confines of the college classrooms we’re all used to, it may come as a surprise how the skills we’ve spent the last few years building are applicable in a variety of professional settings.

Completing an internship in Philadelphia adds another dimension to the already-appealing aspects of interning; so many opportunities available here in Philly don’t exist in the suburbs. Depending on what you consider comfortable commuting distance, interning in Philadelphia while attending Ursinus may be too difficult for some students to swing—PhillyX makes it easy.

The current PhillyX students are a varied bunch. Among us we have a few pre-med students, some English and media and communications majors, and students studying everything from psychology to art, computer science to theater. Yet we’ve all found internships that align well with our interests and aspirations, providing us with invaluable career experience and allowing us to learn in new environments we wouldn’t find in Collegeville.

I enrolled in the PhillyX program with a clear idea of exactly the internship I wanted, even though the PhillyX decision deadline came months before I even had to start applying for internships (a daunting process in itself). I was lucky enough to get the internship I dreamed of—I’m interning at WXPN, a local public radio station, as a writer for its music blog, The Key.

I began doing freelance music writing for a few different blogs and online platforms about a year ago, and I often credit the skills involved with that type of writing to my experience as an English major at Ursinus. I take comfort in the fact that my internship lets me further develop the skills I’ve built as an English major, and I hope that in the future I will work in an environment that allows me to do so, as well.

Several other students in the PhillyX program have found that their college experiences, either academically or through extracurriculars, have given them the foundation necessary to thrive in their internships.

After a semester spent studying abroad in London, senior Emmett Cawley was no stranger to life outside Ursinus. A current intern at the Philadelphia Film Society, Cawley has been able gain hands-on knowledge and experience in the film industry, working with the organization to put together the Philadelphia Film Festival. Not only was this a great opportunity to network within the industry, it gave him the chance to reflect on what type of work to pursue after graduation.

“My internship was great and, as with any internship, it was an opportunity to make connections and learn about my own work habits,” Cawley said.

Senior Thalia Garcia has been interning at Philadelphia’s local NBC television station, NBC10/Telemundo62, in the human resources department. For Garcia, a psychology major who plans to pursue a graduate degree in industrial organizational psychology, working at NBC is a perfect glimpse into what a future in HR—especially in a fast-paced, energetic environment like the news industry—may hold.

“It’s something that will definitely help me out with my future career goals,” Garcia said. “The ability to work for a large company such as NBC allows me to immerse myself in a fast-paced and inclusive culture that I thought I would never see myself in.”

At Ursinus, Garcia has been involved in many leadership positions that have helped ready her for working at an environment like NBC, but the opportunity to actually work there became possible thanks to PhillyX.

“I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this opportunity [if it hadn’t] been for the PhillyX program,” she said.

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