Sean Goheen (Host) 00:00:01
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
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Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
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Sean 00:00:56 Jessica Paholsky, class of 2014 is a digital communications specialist at TE Connectivity in central Pennsylvania. She has previously worked in external communications roles in several industries, including magazines, travel and education, both K 12 and higher ed. Jessica graduated from Penn State's College of Arts and Architecture and Ballet Area College of Communications with degrees in photography and visual communications respectively, and completed her honors work in photojournalism and Italian. She's also the founder and creator of Once Upon a Pesto, a global cultural exploration of pesto based recipes, including an upcoming cookbook. Jessica joins Following the Gong to talk about her experience in the arts and communications at a large public university like Penn State, the value of studying abroad and combining majors and making connections on campus. She then provides insight into working in communications roles as both an individual contributor and team leader, as well as living and working in smaller markets like Hershey or Lewisburg. This episode is great for any scholar, especially any foodies, and particularly for scholars in the arts or communications fields. Her full bio and a detailed breakdown of topics discussed are available in the show notes on your podcast app. With that, let's dive into our conversation with Jessica Paholsky following the gong.
Sean 00:02:06 Joining me here today on following the gong is Jessica Paholsky. Jessica, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
Jessica Paholsky 00:02:13
You're welcome. Thanks so much for having me.
Sean 00:02:15 When you shared your resume in advance, you used the word storyteller, and so a good story always starts off with an origin to set up your character arc and is grounded in some kind of place. So let's ground your story here, as we always do on the show, with how you first came to Penn State in the Schreyer Honors College.
I remember starting the college search process, uh, in high school and talking to my art teacher. Uh, she was very influential in my, uh, high school career. She also happened to be my elementary school art teacher, so best of both worlds for eight years of my, uh, public schooling. She was there and when I talked to her, she recommended Penn State as having a good art program, not specifically an art school, which was important to me because I didn't wanna be locked into just art. And so when I, uh, signed up for a tour at Penn State, I was a little reluctant because both my parents attended, uh, at some branch campus and then went up to main campus to graduate, and then my sister was also currently at a branch campus, so I didn't want to be, you know, following in their footsteps. I always like to do something that's unique to me and and find my own ways, but as soon as I stepped on campus and discovered all the opportunities from study abroad, extracurriculars, academics, uh, and just the beauty of the campus itself, there was no hesitation with that decision.
Sean 00:03:34 <laugh> can't argue with that. Obviously, this is an audio only podcast, so we might have to get a little descriptive throughout <laugh>, but you are our first photography major that we've had here on the show. So how did you get into photography? You talked about your art teachers mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So walk us through the genesis of your interest in this space.
Jessica 00:03:52 When I was in high school, I was taking, um, a course in black and white photography, and it just blew my mind. Uh, this technology and, and process and, and the suspense too. You know, when you're developing not only the film, but then you're, uh, negatives, it just is really interesting. There's a science paired with the art, and that's what I, I love most about it. Um, and which is something I do in, in my career to today. We'll, we'll get to later. And so at that point, I, I started specifically talking to my art teacher about photography programs and photography as a career. I, you know, had this little dream far fished dream of being a photographer for National Geographic, and that's, you know, when I kind of identified photography as being my specialty focus in the art program.
Sean 00:04:37 Photography is something a lot of people say that they're passionate about or they they're into, but you actually took it and studied it. How did you go about being able to practice and exercise your craft in your learnings, both in your classroom assignments and homework, but then also what did you do outside of the classroom that was able to accent that experience?
Jessica 00:04:55 That's a great question, and I think this goes back to the starting with the location of the story and why I chose Penn State. So not only did it offer the College of Arts and architecture photography focus outside of that, I was involved in being a staff photographer for the Daily Collegiate, which is the student newspaper. I also joined the National Press Photographers Association, and then the College of Arts and Architecture Student Counts, student government, uh, getting involved in that in leadership roles. And so all, all of that, you know, kind of paints this picture of holistic photography studies, you know, personal passions. Um, and, you know, when I was not at school, for example, on on breaks and things like that, I did some internships that also, uh, bolstered that photography experience.
Sean 00:05:41 So you mentioned that your dream as a, as a youth was to photograph for National Geographic. So what maybe you, you obviously don't work there now, <laugh>, correct. But what were some of the things that you were able to photograph for, say, the collegiate as a student? Were you able to cover cover football or dignitary visits, talk us or even just kind of the run in the mill daily life at you park? A
Jessica 00:06:03 Lot of daily life. Uh, but there were the, the, the bigger things involved, a couple Penn State football games, uh, down on the sidelines. I remember the one was a colder, rainy day. It was, it was just on the cusp of being able to be snow football game, but it was rain. And so, you know, I'm there trying to protect the gear because it was the, the organization's gear and not mine, but also shield myself from these massive football players that are probably four times my size <laugh>. And so that was quite the experience. And then, you know, just getting to go to sporting events, uh, I, I loved, you know, photographing the women's volleyball. I also got to photograph a concert, and that happened to be Rod Stewart. So that was my first exposure to him as an artist, which was very unique. But yeah, it, it just, it, it provided a portfolio for me to walk away, uh, and, and go into the real working world with,
Sean 00:06:51 So if you're at a football game or you are, you know, at a concert or you're working as the photographer, how is that different from say, just getting out your phone and taking a couple pictures while you're there and enjoying it as a spectator when you're there in a professional capacity?
Jessica 00:07:08 It's totally different experience. Uh, when you think about covering an event, you are never standing still. Uh, you're always moving around trying to get a different angle, different height, you know, whatever that be. And really focusing on a key moment, you know, whether it's facial expressions or body gestures, something that that tells a story versus just kind of taking a, uh, imagine a panorama that just kind of captures it for memory's sake.
Sean 00:07:32 Awesome. Now, as a scholar, you were not just a photography major, you actually decided to double major. So you were in both arts and architecture and then added one in what is now the Donald p Baller College of Communications. How did you decide that, and what value did that provide to you?
Jessica 00:07:47 So my decision came about sophomore year. Um, I was, I was getting in the midst of my, you know, mid-level art courses. And it was at that moment that I started to really look into what it takes to be a National Geographic photographer. And all of their resumes included having studied or got a degree of some sort in journalism. And in high school, my high school had, I graduated with 170 ish students. And so there wasn't a big focus or a program for journalism. And that was my first exposure of, what is it, what is journalism? What does it take to be a journalist? And that's when I landed on the College of Communications and added that major, got really connected with the staff in the college, and it was, it was amazing. You know, I, I looked to that college as, as really propelling my career in tandem with the College of Arts and Architecture.
Sean 00:08:37 Did you find that, like the classes for the two majors were complimentary, or how did that work for you?
Jessica 00:08:44 Complimentary, but also in, uh, in different veins, adding these different abilities, uh, and resources. You know, I still stay in touch with some professors in, in both colleges to this day, and also fellow classmates. I think the College of Arts and Architecture was really that, that creative side. You know, when I talked earlier about the science and art kind of combination, that creative side came from that college, and then Rio, it was, and there's also so ity, but there's a lot of, um, more processes and, you know, that technique of creating that storyline and, and how, how do you go about that in all formats? You know, I didn't just focus on the visual communications. There were courses in, in writing, layout design for newspapers, and so much more. Awesome.
Sean 00:09:31 It sounds like that gave you a really holistic experience. Yeah. And part of the holistic Schreyer Honors College experience, of course, is the thesis. But before we get to your thesis, we're gonna take a step back and we're gonna talk about the letter B from our mission statement, building a global perspective. There's a kind of the common misconception that if you're in the arts or engineering and some of these majors that have studio intensive programs that you may not be able to study abroad, but you were mm-hmm. <affirmative>, can you tell us about your study abroad experience and how it added to your experience as a scholar?
Jessica 00:10:00 Yeah. So I, I did mention that studying abroad was one of the key deciding factors of which college I chose. And so when I landed on Penn State, knowing that they had ample options was a huge win. And then, you know, getting involved in Schreyer and, and that emphasis on that part of it really, it inspired me to take hold of it to the most. And so I started my studio abroad experience after my freshman year in the summer, and that was 2011. I went on a six week home stay program in Pueblo, Mexico. It had courses not only in art, but also Spanish language and history. Uh, we went to so many different places, uh, really, really neat, stuck in my mind was Oaxaca. Uh, we saw Mexico City and stayed. I stayed with a family that, you know, I'm still connected with them on Facebook.
Jessica 00:10:46 It was an incredible experience. And, and that, you know, kind of led to the next option. And so that sophomore year, spring semester of 2012, I decided to commit to a full semester in Pooja in Italy. Uh, this is a central region, both north and south and east and west. So smack dab in the center, which was the perfect launching pad for weekend travels. We had classes, uh, it's Monday through Thursday, so Friday through Sunday I would take trips and I ended up checking off all 20 regions of the country. Uh, their regions are similar to our state, but went to all 20 of them and really got to live the gamut of Italian life that there is, there's so much diversity when you go north to south and you think of Sicily kind of as its own country too. My courses there included photography, fresco painting, which happened to be in the basement of my apartment building.
Jessica 00:11:35 So I could go downstairs without leaving outside and, and work on my Fresco painting. I also took our art history that was focused just on Leonardo da Vinci. And so one of the excursions there, we went to Milan and saw the last supper painting, which is incredible <laugh>. And then I also took a course called, uh, the History and Culture of Food in Italy, uh, which was a huge impact on my outlook and, and, and things that we will talk about soon. And then my final class was Italian because it was required for the program, but it not only inspired me to take Italian semesters thereafter, but to include it as one of the honors I've received through my thesis. And last but not least, <laugh>, so Mexico, Italy, Cuba, through the College of Communications, my senior year, I took an international reporting course, which was based in University Park. But during the, uh, spring break that week, we went to Vana, Cuba and reported on our stories, whether they were multimedia, television written, or photography stories.
Sean 00:12:36 Well, that is pretty exciting. I know that there was like a window there where you could do that given the, uh, interesting histories between our na our nations there. But that's pretty cool. You're able to take advantage of that one side thing for, for maybe the folks who aren't as knowledgeable about art. Can you explain what a fresco is and how that's a little bit different than your normal painting?
Jessica 00:12:54 Of course. Yes. The, the Fresco painting is large scale, uh, first of all, and multi-layered. It, it starts kind of with cement and think of each layer of cement that you're painting onto a wall is more and more fine. So the first layer is like kinda like cement that you would be out putting down on the sidewalk, and then the next layer is, is a little less grainy. And then ultimately what becomes your painting surface is very smooth, uh, white, and it can absorb those paints. And it's, it's a very, uh, <laugh> lengthy process, um, because each layer obviously has to dry, but you have to be mindful of how dry your uh, material is, because the more dry it is, the more likely it can flake off and leave you with starting from square one. Yeah,
Sean 00:13:41 Absolutely. You, if you want to see a good example of fresco's without, without having to travel too far, if you're at University Park, just go in the old, old main lobby during kind of normal business hours. And you can see some fresco's there right in, in the main part of the building that tells some of the history of Penn State and the, the origin of the university. So kinda get a feel of what Jessica's talking about there. Now, you did allude to kind of these intersections of art and language and food and culture and all the different pieces there, and you were able to try to tie it all together in, of course, your thesis. You said you got honors partially in Italians. So why don't you walk us through your thesis experience from the genesis of what inspired your idea all the way to what I'm gonna call the finished product.
Jessica 00:14:27 I was taking a multimedia course through the College of Communications, and that was my first exposure to video production. And that was really, to me, it caught me off guard because all along here I'm thinking photography, national Geographic photographer, but here video is, and it's this whole nother world that it just, uh, intrigued me so much that I decided that was gonna be the actual project for my thesis. I love this ability to combine both the visual aspect of photography with the audio. I like this podcast and, and put it together in a story that's woven. And so then, you know, I was like, what do I do a video about? You know, it could be anything. And I was talking to one of my professors, uh, the late Kurt Chandler, who, you know, a huge inspiration to so many students, uh, at Penn State.
Jessica 00:15:19 And he provided me knowing my interests and my study abroad in Italy, he provided me a book called Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller. And it's about the false marketing that's in the world of olive oil production. As I was reading it, I, I just thought, that is really neat. How cool would it be to to track the production of olive oil from a small farm in Italy and then trace it to where it sold in the United States and how it's consumed in a, a family's home to show that that is what is meant to be extra virgin olive oil and not something that you go to, you know, a a a non-brand name that's has on the label Olives are from Spain and Portugal and Italy and all these other places. That means they have to be transported somewhere, which means it cannot be fresh. And so that is, is essentially what my thesis became, a mini documentary of a Olive grove and the production there in Pano, which happened to be in the same region where I studied abroad, found where they sell it in Maryland, um, which was not too far from my hometown. And then tracing that to the customer's table.
Sean 00:16:29 So was your experience with that one that was not typical for what your standard non-expert consumer would experience just going and buying, you know, insert store name brand olive oil here? Is that, is that what you found?
Jessica 00:16:43 Yes. It's, it's a very, uh, it, it's a wonderful experience. It, it's, so many senses are involved because when you, you smell the olives as they're being crushed at the, the Olive Grove, uh, you see the care that the family puts into it and, and how that fresh quality has to be maintained. Uh, the difference between if you're looking at one of their bottles versus a normal bottle in the grocery store, which there's nothing wrong with getting that kind of stuff because it's great for when you're cooking, because the chemical bonds break down anyways under heat. So when you're comparing these two bottles, the fresh, you know, true extraversion, olive oil bottle will often have a crushed on date that way, you know, like there's full transparency behind those bottles, whereas other bottles, you know, it's marketing, they wanna sell their product, make the most money, spend the least in it. And so sometimes, uh, you know, it's maybe not very clear on the front of the bottle, but on the back of the bottle, you might see that there's actually a combination of olive oil and something of lesser quality that allows them to produce more at a less cost, but could be canola oil or vegetable oil. It kind of dilutes it down
Sean 00:17:49 As you're talking about this, you're making me think of like a lot of the brown liquors, like bourbon and whiskey and kind of the, the same vibe going on there. But I have to ask, 'cause you talked about cooking ver so what, what would this kind of small batch almost farm to table or pretty close level olive oil, what, what would that be best for compared to just, you know, the kind of the average bottle you might purchase at the grocery store? Mm-hmm.
Jessica 00:18:14 <affirmative>. So average bottle use that for cooking. Chemical bonds are gonna break down, save that really good stuff for dipping all of oil, uh, dipping bread in, uh, you know, you think of certain restaurants like Macaroni Grill or something like that. Carabas, they have that plate of olive oil. You dip the bread in something like that, you're really gonna get the full, uh, taste out of it. Or also drizzling as a finish oil. You know, say you cooked vegetables or, uh, grilled some chicken when you serve it on the plate, just drizzle that olive oil on top and, and you get full, full flavor effect and full benefits. They really tout the benefits of antioxidants, uh, because you think olives are fruit, it's a fresh fruit juice.
Sean 00:18:50 Well, I just learned that I <laugh> <laugh>,
Jessica 00:18:52 If
Sean 00:18:53 You're, if you're listening to this, I hope you just learned something too. Or maybe you already knew that. I didn't realize olives were fruits. So I was today years old, but I learned that. Now going to the technical side of this, before we move on to your career, Jessica, you've mentioned you had a course on videography, on video production, but how did you learn all of the different skills? Because even just making a small, how was like probably five 15 minute documentary you made, I imagine six minutes? Yeah. So there's a lot of steals from the storyboarding through the editing and, and your premier. So how did you pick up all of those necessary steals along the way? It,
Jessica 00:19:30 It's funny you mentioned Premier. Um, that is the kind of king of video editing, but it is not what I initially learned. Um, at the time we were learning in, in our courses Final Cut Pro. And so for me, you know, I, I, I learned that program in, in class, but outside of class I did several internships. Some of them were strictly photography, some were a little bit more, uh, I, I interned with a local nutrition, uh, nutrition company. Uh, he was, he was doing some videos for his clients. I also interned, uh, back home with a local newspaper in Carroll County, Maryland. And so that was a multimedia internship where not only it was photography, but some audio stories. And then my summer before my senior year, uh, I interned at W P S U doing a lot of multimedia stuff there as well. And so all of these experience combined is to say that it, it's not just the class, uh, especially in in my areas of study, it's really getting out and, and being hands-on with the work. After
Sean 00:20:35 Putting this podcast together, I can attest to that. There is so much you can get from books and, and reading and watching videos and learning, and then sometimes you just, at a certain point you just kind of gotta go out and just get your hands dirty and Exactly, start, start figuring out. So that's a good segue here, Jessica, you talked about your internships. So can you walk us through kind of the early part of your career and how you got your first role out of college? Because I think there's unfortunately kind of the stereotype of like, oh, you major in x, y, z sort of art thing, and it's so hard. The starving artists we've talked about, uh, with some other guests too. How did you not fall into that trap? How did you go out and get a successful career going from the get go?
Jessica 00:21:13 Yes, great question. I love, you know, the reference of the Starving artists. 'cause that was one of, one of my considerations when I added my second major in communications, specifically visual communications, was having, you know, a more robust presentation for my skills versus just art. Um, and not that there's anything wrong with art, but you know, it's a field that's, it's challenging to get into professionally. And so I was very, very fortunate, you know, my senior year I was taking, as I mentioned earlier, an Italian course, and my professor, Patrick Tau, he wanted to show us how we could use Italian or any language in the professional world. And so he connected with a company, uh, called Travel for Teens, located just outside of Philadelphia, and brought in one of their, uh, staff members to say, you know, here's, I, I'm married to an Italian woman.
Jessica 00:21:59 I traveled to Italy every year leading high school students on these trips, and it, it's, it's something that anyone can do. And I was like, that is really cool. You know, this was my first experience with a Zoom call. You know, now it's like second nature for us, right? <laugh>. So I left that class, um, walking in front of Old Maine back across to the south end of campus, and I pull up this company's website, find his email, kind of look at there, if there were any job postings. Couldn't find much of that. Um, so I sent him an email and said, Hey, thanks so much for, you know, speaking to our class today. It was really, really taught me, gave me a lot of insight, and I, I just wanted to reach out because I am a senior, be graduating soon. I wanted to see if you have any interest in hiring someone as a videographer for the company.
Jessica 00:22:44 And it wasn't too long after that that he connected me with the vice president of the company and said, Hey, let's, let's all hop on a call, the three of us. And here they've been considering this role for quite some time because it would be valuable for the marketing efforts. And not too long after, I, I was hired by travel for teens as their videographer, um, but also in the, the school year time when they weren't leading trips abroad for high school students doing some logistics, admin, uh, booking flights, managing paper work applications and payments and everything like that. So, uh, you know, from this one course one day, that led to what had become my career, um, for the first two years straight out of of college. I started there literally within a week after graduating. Well,
Sean 00:23:32 The next time you listening, think about maybe skipping a class, maybe that one lesson is the one that will set you on your career path. Yes. So maybe, maybe don't skip your class. There you go. <laugh>, uh, perfect example there, Jessica. Now getting into the bulk of your career. So it sounds like early on you, you kind of balanced, you know, hey, we're gonna bring you on to do just anything and everything, but then you've moved on to a couple of different roles where you highlight right on your resume. I have it up here because you were trying enough to share in advance, which is always helpful for me as the host. And you're talking about leading teams and they're much more of the content creation, production pieces. But one of the things that really kind of stands out to me is that none of these are in big market cities. They're not in Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles, Nashville, they're in much smaller, more suburban towns. Can you talk about your experience working in those settings?
Jessica 00:24:29 That's a great observation, uh, about those big markets. And when you think of journalism, communications majors, marketing, advertising, you're, you're talking big cities and cost of living are higher. But I was fortunate not only to have these smaller town experiences, but also sometimes you look at a resume and, and you are surprised that a, a journalism major never worked full-time after college at a TV station or a newspaper. But to me it was like every, every step of my career just kind of seemed to fall in place. And also this digitalization that we're, you know, living in everything, becoming more video-based and digitized. Now we have ai it just all kind of played out really beautifully for my benefit. So that's going down a rabbit hole. Go coming back, <laugh> to where we were. My, my next step after travel for teens was always eyeing up health and fitness magazines.
Jessica 00:25:25 Um, so not quite National Geographic, but another side passion of mine is, is fitness and, and, and wellbeing. And so that's when I identified a Rodale, uh, which is the publisher at the time for Men's Health, women's health Runner's world, bicycling, and a couple other magazines. And so I found they had an opening for a video producer for Men's Health Magazine. I applied and as the company's kind of mission and, and vision is to be based in a rural setting. That company was headquartered in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, uh, which is in the Lehigh Valley near Bethlehem and, um, eastern pa. So that, that led me to my next career experience. I advanced there and, and eventually led a team of four videographers, um, working under different magazine titles, including Prevention, organic Life Runner's World, and, and Bicycling. And so from that, that smaller town, I moved a little northwest, uh, to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, working at Bucknell.
Jessica 00:26:22 That transition occurred because as I mentioned, Rodale has, has no longer, um, become a, a name of its own. It was acquired by Hurst when I was working there. It was, it was a great experience, and I was a little uncertain with the future of the company when they announced that they were going up for sale. Um, so not knowing which jobs were gonna be cut, cut, if, you know, they were gonna have to move the staff in Emmaus to New York City. I decided at that time another big interest of mine and, and passion. You know, here I am speaking on, uh, the Dryer Honors College podcast. Passion of mine is higher education. And so that's when I explored different universities that were out there and their co their, uh, communications department who was looking for videographers. And so Bucknell was, was that next step and, and took me to the small rural town along the Susquehanna north of where I currently am today. And so in 2019, I was contacted because a current staff member of Milton Hershey School saw some of the video work that I was putting out on the Bucknell YouTube channel and said, Hey, we, we'd love to have you come explore this opportunity that we have, consider taking on this role and, and, you know, see if it's the right fit for you. Uh, so I made that transition to where I'm currently located here in Hershey, Pennsylvania today.
Sean 00:27:38 That is awesome. And I have to ask, when you were at Bucknell, did you run across Dean Mather at all?
Jessica 00:27:43 I did. <laugh> <laugh>. I I was definitely filming some events where he was there, uh, you know, you think graduation or commencement a couple times too. You know, he was, he was definitely present. We never interacted. Uh, but when I saw he became the dean for S H c I was like, what are, what are the odds that like, you know, you go from being so close and then having such a, a close connection to a university.
Sean 00:28:08 That's hilarious. And if you're listening, you're like, Sean, Jessica, what the heck are you talking about? Go back and listen to episode 31 with Dean Mather. He was the dean of engineering at Bucknell before he came home to Penn State. So go listen to that one when you're done with this episode. So shameless <laugh>, not so shameless plug there. Now you've worked for, let me get this right, a travel, just to summarize your mm-hmm. <affirmative> the past couple minutes here for listeners. You've worked for a travel agency, particularly aimed at teenagers. Yeah. You've worked for the parent company for primarily magazines, which now kind of occupy this like, hybrid space with a lot of online content too. Yeah. Especially as a video producer, you worked for a university and then the Milton Hershey School, which is K 12 Private, those are all very different employers, but you're doing a lot of the same kind of work. Yes. So how did those environments differ? What were some advantages to some over others? What did you enjoy? What were challenges? Just walk us through the different types there and how that impacted your work in a creative space.
Jessica 00:29:06 Yeah, you got it. Nail on the head. They're all very different environments, different sizes when you think of employee base, geographically, different locations. But I think they all kind of, it shows how important communications is. Um, and storytelling is at the center of any organization, no matter what the industry. And I think when I look at my own interests, they have all kind of checked a box in some way. And that, you know, ultimately is, is kinda what led me to my current role. I, I was looking for something, how could I challenge myself, you know, kind of step outta that comfort zone, which is, you know, any advice that you wanna take from this podcast for any, any student, um, perspective or, or current is, is challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone, because that's, that's truly when you, you know, you discover more about yourself, but also you might learn something new, um, whether it's a new course, new or extracurricular activity, new conversation.
Jessica 00:30:00 And so I'm currently working at TE Connectivity in their internal communications department. And so that was a big switch for me, always producing externally published content, to now going to a company that's not only global and has over 80,000 employees, but is in the technology industry. Uh, which I can't say I'm, you know, the biggest tech nerd out there, but I have learned so much and, and have gotten so many neat experiences already eight months into my role here. And getting to work with a great supportive group of employees who, you know, really, really do understand their work, uh, and put their heart into it. Um, they don't, you know, just do things to do things. I think a lot of what my journey has been, both as a student and, and to now is having purpose behind everything. And, and I really feel that every role, no matter what the industry is, I felt that purpose because I'm contributing something tangible. Um, whether it exists in, you know, the cloud as a link, there's something that you watch, you hear, and then, you know, you're led to, to act upon.
Sean 00:31:05 So, Jessica, you know, I always like to view this as more of a conversation, right? But I do wanna ask about your interview for your current job. So thinking about what you were just saying about kind of this theme and purpose of storytelling, how did you go, you know, Milton Hershey School, I can't imagine, has a very large staff and about 2000. And so then you tripled that by, or multiply that by 40 you said to your current company. So tell us about your interview process and just how you explained and marketed yourself as being able to translate from such a small employer to such a massive one. Yeah,
Jessica 00:31:38 I actually had a conversation with, uh, my supervisor. Uh, we've, we've had several video shoots with the C e O and other executives, uh, in Berlin, which kind of takes me back to where the team travel company was at the start of my career. And so in those car rides, you know, we talk about everything from, you know, his family and kids, what we're doing the next weekend to more, you know, career deep conversations. And one of the things that he said stood out in my interview was presentation skills. And so when you think about that, you know, applying to anything, it's not only the content that you're saying about yourself, you know, some of that's very, uh, legible on a resume or in writing form, but it's how you carry that and, and emphasis and, and really personable skills, you know, eye contact still, it's still there, whether you're through a screen or in person, but that was something that he said stood out to me on top of the skills that I brought, uh, as a video producer.
Sean 00:32:32 Well, I hope if you're, you know, as you're listening, if that might be helpful for you as you're weighing different career moves, you know, some things transcend companies and sometimes even industries. I think presentation skills, being able to communicate and just interact with other people, knowing how to write a good email, I'm sure mm-hmm. <laugh>, you know, those sorts of things. Believe me, I'm sure you and I have both seen probably a lot of badly written ones. So, you know, these basic skills, make sure you're working on them. Now, Jessica, I mentioned this a little bit as I was going through your resume. I really liked that you highlighted the roles where you led teams and the size of the teams. So how did you go about getting the skills to lead the teams, to compliment all of the technical ones that you have as a photographer, videographer, or even an animator, which I saw that you had on here as well. Walk us through that process of how you picked up the still necessary to lead a team of creatives and not just be an individual contributor creator.
Jessica 00:33:30 Yeah, great question. And I think that's something that any prospective student, current student, alum, professional, you know, there's always that aspiration to be a leader. And there's a lot of, a lot of noise out there about what it is to be a good leader and what poor leadership looks like, and what soft skills are needed for good leaders. And I think it's, it's kind of like this puzzle of when, you know, you know, the, the, the major things, you know, what it takes to be a good leader is good communication, empathy, listening skills, but also beyond that, it's using your own experiences to notice, so-and-so's a good leader, so-and-so's a good leader. I really like this about this person's leadership skills and that about this person's. And how do you combine the best of all of these influences to make it one of your own? Uh, and that, you know, can really kind of set the stage for you to be a unique but successful leader.
Sean 00:34:21 I think that is very good advice. Now, speaking of being creative and kind of the individual contribution side of things, it is not at all surprising that you have a side hustle <laugh>. So can you tell us about this project that you've been working on and, you know, going back to your thesis, I guess, but mm-hmm. <affirmative>, walk us through what inspired you to take on all this extra work outside of your day job? So
Jessica 00:34:46 This started when I was working at Rodale, and as Rodale was a publisher, I set a goal right then and there, like the first day I started at the company, I wanna publish a cookbook. And so then I, you know, was what, what's the topic gonna be? Kind of like the thesis, I gotta start somewhere. And having that thesis kind of as my voice or expertise out there, I was like, what's another Italian food product that I can send around this cookbook? It uses olive oil most often, it doesn't have to as I learned later. And so that led me to pesto. Uh, and so I created a brand called Once Upon a Pesto and started creating recipes every weekend. I was, uh, writing out these recipes, going to the store, getting the ingredients, making it, taking the photographs, and then at the end in the evening, you know, as I'm enjoying these, these different dishes that I've created, uh, writing up like blog posts.
Jessica 00:35:37 And so I, I did that up until I made 50 different pestos, each used in two different ways. And so at that point I said, okay, <laugh>, I gotta reel this in. I have, uh, so many different pesto ideas. What am I gonna do with it? And if I stop creating these pestos, well, my blog's gonna look dead because there's gonna be, you know, dates on there and it's just gonna stop. So that's when I reassessed looked at the content that I had skimmed down and, and made it 40 recipes, but then spotlighted them on more of a portfolio website style. And, um, you know, this experience, not only did it put to use my photography and communication skills that it also taught me, uh, and propelled me into the world of web design, uh, once upon a pesto.com became kind of the hub of my content.
Jessica 00:36:22 But then I was exploring social media, and again, I picked up this other skill that, you know, kind of self-taught and was very beneficial to growing a following, which was the number one tip that I got out of my connections at Rodale, although I didn't publish the cookbook, then all of them said the big thing is, is getting that following. And so I've, I'm proud to say that I have over 17,000 followers on Instagram to date, also have presence on TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. And so at this point, I have a publisher and it's, it's, you know, it's taking form. I've already actually started writing content for edition number two. And, uh, it's, it's really, if I had to describe it in a nutshell, it's recipes that teach you whether you're cooking them or not, teach you about different places around the world and the culture and food history behind them. So you think about that, uh, Italian course that I took when I was studying abroad in Puria. And that was, at the time, you know, this in, in the back burner, something that led, uh, directly to Once upon a pesto. Well,
Sean 00:37:24 That is really exciting. And you heard the links, I'm sure those also be in the show notes, so you can give Jessica and her page a follow on the platforms that you use. But I have two questions to follow up, Jessica. One is on the food and one is on the content and strategy. So I'll just get the food one outta the way first. How did you not get sick of eating pesto based food every weekend? For who knows how long <laugh>?
Jessica 00:37:45 It was, it was a good couple years. Uh, I did not get sick of it because the idea is that pesto isn't just basil and pine nuts, nor is it just used on pasta. And so the pestos I was making, it could be based, uh, with fruit like bananas and cantaloupe. Uh, it could be spices and herbs like rosemary, or, you know, in general spices that was inspired by Morocco or vegetables from okra, which, you know, you could turn your nose up, but until you have okra pesto, it's something unique to try. Um, corn is another pesto. And so all these various ingredients, there really was no repetition with my, my pesto making.
Sean 00:38:22 So I'll admit, my question came from a spot of thinking pesto is purely based from the basil and pine nut. So can you define pesto for us?
Jessica 00:38:33 Sure. And that is a very normal understanding of pesto. Uh, and that kind of goes back to why I chose olive oil as my thesis and pesto as, as this side hustle is misunderstandings and bringing to light, uh, the truth behind certain food products. So pesto, when you look at the root word in Italian, pess is a verb that means to crush or to grind. And so in no way does it say you have to use an herb, you have to use a cheese, you have to use a nut. Nope. It's just the process. And so what's a tool that, you know, back in the Middle ages they use to make such a sauce? The mortar and pesto, pesto, pesto pest, you know, they all sound the same. And that's true because pesto comes from that same verb. It's, it's that tool that crushes the stuff in a stone, often a stone or marble bowl. Uh, it's used in pharmaceuticals as well, but you know, you can make pesto even today using a mortar and pestle.
Sean 00:39:25 This all makes sense, <laugh>, as soon as you said it, I could tell where you were going with the mortar and pestle. As soon as you were talk, I was like, oh, I know where this is going. <laugh>
Jessica 00:39:33 <laugh>,
Sean 00:39:35 That is fantastic. And again, I'm learning a lot talking with you, and I hope you listening are picking up a few things as well. If you weren't familiar with this, which it sounds like you might not be based on the fact that you were writing this book to help illuminate these things for us mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Now on the strategy and content side, if you watch somebody on YouTube, there's kind of this playbook. They start building their channel, and then, oh, they have a Patreon and they start selling merch, and then maybe they get really big, they have a TV show or there's a book, or there's these multifaceted income streams that they develop. Did you just say, Hey, I want to do this thing with pesto and see where it goes. Or did you have like a playbook from the beginning of like, okay, at every stage if I check this off, I want to do this next? You know, what was your thought and what would you recommend for students who might wanna do something similar, whether it's something with cars or food or wood or metal or, or comedy or art, whatever that they might want to do to give their own side hustle or maybe even a full-time career.
Jessica 00:40:30 I did not have a playbook, uh, which is, you know, I I, as you were asking that question, I kind of thought, is that something I should have thought of from the get go? Uh, versus, you know, using my exposure to a publishing company as that idea and, you know, steps thereafter, kind of my playbook was that mentorship and networking and getting that feedback, hearing them say, you need to grow your following. And then adopting social media, specifically Instagram as my source to get that following. And then, you know, if I have to answer that in any way, I did have a playbook. It was over, over time, seeing how I can promote my growth on social media, you know, what strategies I can use there, whether it's the content I'm putting out there, the frequency, how I'm engaging with my followers, or attracting new followers, and how from there, there, there has to be some value in it for them, right? If there's no value in it for them, well, what's, it's a waste of their time. And so ultimately that, that engagement and building these relationships is with this idea of, of the cookbook being that goal and, and product.
Sean 00:41:38 Absolutely. I think you nailed it there. You want to provide value. The goal with this show is hopefully providing you listening with some career advice, and also sometimes talking about food and illuminating things about pesto and olive oil. So, uh, hopefully you are learning stuff new and, and getting value out of this listening. And if you are, you know, let us know. And if you're not, let me know too, so we can fix that. Also, a great way to get exposure, get on podcasts like this one. Yes. So you have that. You can use this to partly that into other ones. Jessica, there you go. This probably takes up a lot of your time. You have a full-time job and you have this pretty much our desk full-time side hustle. So how do you get plugged into your local communities and find balance? Because you've, you're in all these kind of mid-size, smaller towns, like we talked about, you're mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you've never actually worked in Center City, Philadelphia or Los Angeles or, you know, Midtown Manhattan or Nashville and, and, um, and on Broadway there, like, it's kind of these hubs of creative talent. So how do you plug into these smaller areas where it may not be as obvious and, and find balance? Yeah,
Jessica 00:42:46 Balance is, is key for me, both personally, professionally, and, and in a very other aspects. But outside of video and communications as a job, once upon a pesto, as you know, that kind of ongoing goal, I am involved in my church, and this is something that's not specific to my current location of Hershey, but has, has been throughout my career. As I move to each town, I, I identify a church, you know, where I can get plugged in, have not only support, but then offer something to them. And that to me is, is music. I play piano and play every couple weekends, uh, for my church here in the Hershey area. Uh, it's really, you know, it's something that I put a pause on when I was in college. I took piano lessons from second grade through 12th grade and didn't find an outlet for it in college, but picked it right up after graduation when I found a church to get plugged into. And it's, it really, you know, there's nothing more kind of fulfilling than being able to give back to that kind of a community and, and building a network of all generations of friends through that.
Sean 00:43:47 That is awesome. And I was like, of course you play piano because why not? <laugh>? Now I have just a fun side question here. Have you ever written and recorded your own music for your video productions? I
Jessica 00:44:01 Have not that, that would be next level <laugh>.
Sean 00:44:05 Well, hey, maybe you can, uh, if you have any videos to go with your cookbook Yes. You know, for some more three dimensional content, you could do your own music. Yeah,
Jessica 00:44:14 That's a great idea. Copy.
Sean 00:44:15 Yeah, full source, right? There you go.
Jessica 00:44:16 I'm writing that one down. <laugh>.
Sean 00:44:20 All right, so we're gonna move into kind of the back third of our conversation here, Jessica. And I've never written a cookbook. I can barely cook dinner. Uh, that's not really one of the things, things I do at my house. I'm more of the cleaner. I am not really in the creative space outside of this podcast, so I'm sure there's some things that I overlooked asking. So what should have I asked you about in your career, your side hustle, in your community involvement that I didn't think to ask that might be helpful for students to have been asked in this conversation?
Jessica 00:44:50 I, Shauna I think you've done amazing. Um, you know, these, these questions have really kind of hit every angle. I think if I had to be nitpicky and find one, you know, kind of other piece of advice, uh, to, to offer students out there or even young professionals, alum, it would be that it kind of going back to a comment I made, and one of the answers and following up on that is, is a balance of left and right brain, right? There's that analytical strategic side and also that creative side. And so as a creative professional, how do you balance that? Um, is it gonna be the coursework that you take? You know, when you think about gen eds, that's a great opportunity to balance that, you know, with math courses, science courses, or if, if you're listening to this and you're an engineering student, why not take a piano class? You know, it, it's really gonna stretch the different sides of the brain and, and possibly open up an opportunity that you might find for yourself in the future, whether it's, uh, on the side or, or through your career.
Sean 00:45:49 Absolutely. And you know, sometimes these things are both left brain and right brain, like cooking, there is a science to it. There's chemistry and the biology of the plants and the meat and all these different things. But then it's also kind of an art and knowing like, what tastes good, there's no, there's no way to test for that. I'm sure maybe you could distill it down with like pH balance and some things, but <laugh>, it's a little bit of both. So, you know, go out and be well balanced. We would like that here in the honors college. And thank you for listening to this free will and conversation we've been having today. Now, Jessica, this is your chance to brag a little bit. What would you say is your biggest success to date in what you've learned from it? I,
Jessica 00:46:24 I think this is a, this is more of a generalized answer. It's not a like one moment in time or one tangible thing, but I think it's doing everything with purpose. Uh, you know, having, having meaning behind everything that I do and, and doing with a full heart. If I ever go about something without that, I hope someone slaps me upside the head and says, <laugh>, what have you done, <laugh>? Because, you know, I think, I think that's really important, a mindset to have. And, and, and that in itself is a fuel for success. I
Sean 00:46:56 Love that. And you know, obviously hearing the Honors College, we try to orient our purpose around you all as our scholars and our a, b, C mission. So whatever it is, your personal values and your mission, make sure you're adhering to that. But on the flip side, Jessica, what would you say is your biggest transformational learning moment or mistake that you've made in your career? And also what you took from that? Hmm.
Jessica 00:47:15 Biggest transformational was that's, it's, it's a challenging one 'cause right? You wanna, you wanna look at it with a positive lens. And so when you say mistake, then that you've learned from, i, I would say taking this step transformation wise to te connectivity. I had mentioned it was going from external content production to internal content, but it was also the first one where my duties and roles list wasn't extensively based in video. Uh, I was kind of fearful of stepping away from video as the 100% roles responsibilities, and it's more like a 25% now. But it has transformed me and be being more, um, well-versed in other communication skills and projects and working with vendors, working with internal stakeholders across the globe and executives and things like that. And I think that is gonna be a great, um, asset moving forward. And, and it showed me that, you know, I can still maintain, you know, my technical chops and interviewing skills and things like that in video without doing it every day, 365 days a year. Well,
Sean 00:48:20 I, I think that is really helpful for scholars to hear if you can master both the technical side and the strategic side and the creative side. There's so many elements, there's very few things that are very simple. So being able to pull those pieces in. Now, you alluded to this a little bit with your, uh, once upon a pesto part of the conversation, and that was mentorship. And you mentioned that you got some great advice about growing your following and picking the right platform, whether it's Instagram, YouTube, or you know, the dozen other different platforms that you can build an audience on. But how do you approach mentorship overall, whether it's you being the mentee and getting advice and, and being taken under a wing, but also how do you, you know, support mentees that come to you looking for advice? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,
Jessica 00:49:03 There's, there's two main avenues that I've, um, definitely taken advantage of mentorship, both as a mentee and a mentor. First Avenue is professionally, both at Milton Hershey School and at TE Connectivity. There's a very well developed mentoring program at Milton Hershey School. It was with students and staff. And so I got to be a mentor for students, uh, in high school. And that really kinda propelled me to challenge myself of, of what is it like to be that mentor that I would wanna have if I were a freshman in high school, uh, living away from home at a, at a school where, you know, I might not be as familiar with the environment. And on the flip side, here at te, I am being mentored by another, uh, staff member through a program in our organization that just just launched, uh, called Navigate. And it's not only mentorship, but it's also access to professional development learning. It's a way to kind of look and map out your journey, uh, as you know, roles you might want to, uh, work towards in the future. And then on the second side, so I said professionally also on the other side is, is through my alma mater. Uh, whether it's the Berio College Communications or Schreyer, there, there are many opportunities to serve as a mentor, um, and also that network, um, to be mentored by other alum, whether they're older or younger, I think everyone can, can learn from and offer something to anyone else.
Sean 00:50:29 Excellent. Not every company has those kind of formal mentoring programs, but they do definitely take advantage of those. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and thank you for the shameless plug for our programs here in the Schreyer Honors College and most colleges at Penn State. Most campuses have some form of mentoring program that you can leverage no matter where your primary academic home is, in addition to our programs here in Schreyer. Now, Jessica, just for some fun questions here at the end, are there any professors or friends from your time in the Honors college that you want to give a shout out to. Yes,
Jessica 00:50:59 Absolutely. Um, a co I mentioned a couple, um, and so I'll kind of go in order of how I mentioned them and add, add a third one in there. So the Lake Kurt Chandler in, in the College of Communications, you know, exposing me to multimedia and just being such an inspiration and, and real living example of what storytelling and journalism is like. And then moving over to the College of Liberal Arts professor Patrick Tau. Um, he's also involved in their global engineering, uh, department. He, you know, it was that, that class and that specific day, um, that exposed me to what became my first job out of college. And last but not least, would be Randy plu in the College of Arts and Architecture. He's since retired and is living the wonderful life of retirement, which I hear, you know, every so often we, we connect. But he's, he was a professor in art history and really the ignition behind my study abroad experiences, every time I would walk into his office, the staff would welcome me. They knew exactly who I was, and they're like, oh, are you talking about Mexico? How, how, how's Italy coming along? And, you know, he's there every step of the way. He and his wife have led trips in Italy. Uh, and so that was near and dear to him. Uh, and so he really, you know, saw that through for me.
Sean 00:52:11 Awesome. And if you are looking to study abroad, don't forget, in the Honors College, we have travel grants specifically. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> Ear March to help you study abroad. So come talk to us. You wanna talk to Sarah Lyle Combs, who oversees our international programs. She is wonderful, and she can help you figure out how to access those funds. So not so shameless blood there. <laugh>. Jessica, as we're wrapping up our time, is there any final pieces of advice, whether it's career specific take making the most of your time at, at Schreyer and at Penn State or otherwise that you wanted to leave our scholars with today?
Jessica 00:52:43 I think I would just reiterate, um, the advice that I've, I've said before of, you know, finding balance between, um, some science-based stuff and some art-based stuff, but also finding your purpose, um, doing things with a purpose and also stretching yourself, uh, challenge yourself, pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. One kind of like example of that, I guess a living example is that I was voted the most shy in high school, uh, for my senior superlatives. And now here I am interviewing, uh, for several years now with a camera in front of my face and, you know, micing people up. And, and it's like second nature to me to be so interactive with people no matter, you know, what their title is in an organization of 2000 to 80,000 employees.
Sean 00:53:27 That is great. And obviously today you got to be on the other side of it. Yes. <laugh> to get interviewed. So you went from that to this. So I would call that a win <laugh>. If a scholar wanted to reach out to you and learn more about your career, or if they're also interested in Once Upon a Pesto, how can they connect with you on these different platforms
Jessica 00:53:46 On social media? I am at Once Upon a pesto. Uh, you can also find my, my Pesto recipes and all of that information at once upon a pesto.com.
Sean 00:53:55 Excellent. And speaking of food and flavors, we always wrap up with this question <laugh>, and I hope you have a good one. Ready. If you were a flavor of Burkey Creamery Ice Cream, Jessica, which would you be? And most importantly, as a scholar alumna, why would you be that flavor?
Jessica 00:54:10 I would be Monkey Business, and that is because not only was I born in a year of the monkey, uh, when you think about the Chinese New Year, I also, you know, did some thinking. And monkeys are unique. They're kind of going back to the last response. They're sociable. Um, they're very, you know, interactive with people, but also they have a, a, a playful humor side to them. Um, and that's something that I think comes through with my content on Once Upon a pesto that, you know, there's purpose and seriousness to it, but it's also fun and childlike. Um, some humor added in there. So yeah. Who doesn't love banana ice cream with some other stuff added in?
Sean 00:54:49 I was gonna say, I literally was pulling up the Creamery website while you were answering that question.
Sean 00:54:55 For the record, it is defined as banana ice cream with peanut butter swirl and chocolate chips. So I think, I think you nailed that one on there with your description. Thank you. Jessica Paholsky is a content creator by day in her jobs, doing great stuff for different sized companies, universities, schools, who knows what's next. And then she's also a content creator and cookbook author by Knight focusing on pesto. I learned a lot about pesto and olive oil from your thesis, so really cool to hear how your thesis is still influencing your career a day. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> or a decade later. So yeah, I think that's pretty cool when those stories come up and doesn't have to, your thesis does not have to do that, but it is pretty cool that yours did. Jessica, I wanna thank you for coming on Following the Gong today and sharing all of your really helpful advice for students who are in the arts, who are in communications, who are even in cooking. I I really appreciate all of your time and insights today, so thank you. Thank
Jessica 00:55:50 You so much for having me. I, I really hope you know anyone listening gets something out of this and, um, and, and wish you all the best in your future episodes.
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