Catherine Del Fierro goes to Cal Poly Pomona and is a business administration major with a concentration in business management and human resources; she has also worked as a background investigator, running background checks for clients. In the future, Catherine hopes to work at a company with a thriving work environment but ultimately wants to become a professor.

Catherine wanted to get more HR experience and found out about the VA’s DME Internship through a virtual career fair at her college. There she learned about the benefits and scholarships that the DME Internship offers. Catherine is especially concerned about the recent arrival of virtual learning, which poses another challenge and opportunity for Catherine to engage with more students and professors online through her experience in Human Resources. 

For Catherine’s first year at the DME Internship, she is the new Human Resources Division Officer in the DME’s HR Department. She is happy that she can work flexible hours around her class schedules and says that she is getting a lot of HR experience from this internship. 

Use the audio player to listen to Catherine’s full interview, or read the transcript below:


Shannon Moran: The Department of Veterans Affairs does not endorse or officially sanction any entities that may be discussed in this podcast, nor any media products or services they may provide. Hello and welcome to the intern podcast here with the Department of Digital Media Engagement. My name is Shannon Moran, and I am an intern and Executive Team Leader here with DME. I help run multiple podcasts within our platform, and host this one as well. We work really hard to make sure that you, the listener, get to learn more about what we do here within our DME program, tour fellow interns, and hopefully you can learn more about the other departments that we have within our program, and maybe compel you to apply if you are not an intern with us. That being said, I hope you enjoy!

Hey everybody and welcome back to the DME Interns Podcast, I am here today with Catherine.  She goes to Cal Poly Pomona and is a Business Administration Major with an emphasis on Management and Human Resources.  She worked as a background investigator, running background checks for clients. She hopes to work in a company that has a nice work environment in the HR department, but eventually she wants to become a professor.  She really wanted this internship to get more experience in the HR field, especially due to covid, the virtual setting was really appealing.  So, how are you today Catherine?

Catherine Del Fierro: I’m doing well, super excited for this podcast, something to cross off the bucket list to be a part of, so thank you for inviting me.

SM: No problem.  So, tell me a little bit about what… so background check, what does all of that mean?

CDF: So with background checks, it’s sort of part of the onboarding process.  There’s a lot to the onboarding process in the HR field, but I only handle like the screening of the resumes, making sure that the employers you listed, you have worked for them, because some people may or may not falsify that information to get a job.  I also double check that you go to the schools you went to, and have obtained professional licenses that you have said you obtained.

SM: Oh, that’s really cool, those are a lot of things that I think people don’t think about.  So, you want to work for a company that has a nice work environment, and then you want to become a professor.  What would you love to teach? Your dream class, anything you could want.

CDF: My dream class, so right now, I am a TA for Business Communications. It’s a very easy class, we just teach people, how to just talk to people, because I don’t know about you but I have problems talking sometimes, and this just teaches you like different lines of communication, how to write emails professionally, unprofessionally, how to break bad news if you have bad news, and how to write a resume.  But, honestly, for a dream class, it would probably revolve around baking because I just love being in the kitchen.  I don’t know if I could open a bakery myself, but it’s just fun to make homemade goods from scratch because you put in all that hard work and who knew that flour, butter, sugar, eggs, could make something so delicious.  

SM: Yeah, I love to cook, and my housemates particularly love that I love to cook because they enjoy the food that I make so it works out.

CDF: Hahaha, yeah.

SM: So, how did you decide on the HR field? What led you to that?

CDF: So, with HR, surprisingly I used to be a STEM major.  I was super into science, I wanted to actually go into bio chemistry so I could just make foods, which I think would be super cool.  But, chemistry is not my strong suit, and I noticed that I’m pretty good with people and just listening to them, figuring out what they need and just talking.  So, I knew that Human Resources was a human-centric field obviously, and so I thought it would be cool to be in Human Resources, because I’ve heard so many encounters of people just saying, oh, my job’s exhausting.  Or, oh, I feel so mentally tired after work, and I feel like everyone shouldn’t feel that way about their job.  I want to create a place, or at least work at a place where that’s not what you say about your job, you’re happy to go in.  It doesn’t feel like a job, it’s more like a hobby or something you’re super interested in and passionate about instead of something that drains you physically and mentally. 

SM: I think everybody wants that, and the importance of a job that you enjoy going to is really appealing.  So, how did you find this internship?

CDF: So with this internship, my college had a virtual career fair and I spoke to someone who offered this position and spoke about so many benefits.  Like, one of them was potentially being offered a job after you complete the internship, or a couple scholarship opportunities, specifically in the field that I’m in since there aren’t a lot of business majors who are interested in furthering their education.  And especially like right now, where everything’s virtual, it’s hard to get people motivated to come back or just stay on campus, because I know with online modes of instruction, a lot of things are recorded, people say, oh, I’ll get back to it but do they really?  And it’s just, it’s hard for everyone because you have these teachers who are struggling to adapt, you have these students to adapt, and I know like for me, personally, being in-person, interacting with classmates or professors or just anyone I meet on campus is something that makes me quite happy.  It’s sad for the freshmen who were looking forward to this experience who had to come into the online realm.

SM: Yeah, that’s very true.  So, how long have you been a DME intern?

CDF: I actually just started, I finished the on-boarding process, I’m working with, or at least I’ve communicated to many of the supervisors, the chain of command, and just getting to know the team.  We’re all very new, and especially because it’s a virtual format, we’re all adjusting, so, it’s cool.  

SM: That’s awesome, so what are you most excited about? 

CDF: So, with this internship, it’s amazing that the hours are so flexible because I know as a college student it’s like, oh, there are few jobs that would accommodate this schedule as much as I would need it, according to my classes.  Who knows if I can have the luxury of how flexible this internship is compared to like a normal job.  I could work at 6AM if I wanted to, and stop at 8 and then go to class and come back, and start at 5PM if I needed to.  Whereas, jobs you need to black out at least 4 hours of your day to one, travel there, get situated, and work, and then go back to what you were originally doing.  So, that’s one thing I’m super excited about, the flexible schedule.  I know, even with like covid it’s hard to adjust to just staying inside or online classes, or just making sure everyone’s safe.  Yeah, I think it’s a great opportunity too because the CSU’s are at least online, so we’re required to get a virtual one, and it was just so hard to find a virtual internship.  So, just being a part of this is interesting because it’s such a huge adjustment.  So, just seeing how you can build a team virtually is a skill in itself, because I mean, we are in a technology age where it would be super beneficial to know how to connect to people online instead of having to be in person.  Especially with your resumes and stuff, where everything is on LinkedIn, or you don’t hand in a physical resume anymore.  So it’s good to pick up these skills and just, like I mentioned before, just learning new aspects of human resources because I know especially as college students we’re here for the experience and to grow.  When you’re new you just need to absorb all the information you can because we’re set to pick a major, to pick what to do for the rest of our lives at such a young age where we don’t have the exposure to correctly make that choice, so just getting as much experience as you can and dipping your feet into anything you can possibly get your hands on just helps you figure out what can make you happy in life and just, figure out your place and where you want to be in the future. So, just getting that HR experience with various fields because it’s a very broad major.  So, sort of narrowing that down to what do I like, what don’t I like, do I want to pursue this more, or, I like this, but I think it can be changed like this and just seeing how to work with a team online is something I’m super excited for too.

SM: That’s fantastic.  The team has done a really great job in onboarding all of us online and building this really cool virtual community, as well as all of the leadership team and everyone in the chain of command is so willing and open to mentor us and to teach us and for us to ask questions and all of those things.  It’s a really great dynamic and relationships you can build with your peers, all virtual.  So, that’s yeah, that’s awesome.  So what are you, what has been your favorite thing about the internship so far?

CDF:  I guess my favorite thing about the internship so far — I did get to work on a small project, so just seeing that small aspect or gaining that exposure to the onboarding process, and there’s such an open community as well, like we have many channels on Slack, we have the Making Connections Mondays, the Resume Building Fridays, all of those are helpful.  When you hand in your resume, you want it to be the perfect thing, especially since I’m an HR major, I have to look at these all day.  Just, always having more than one set of eyes on your resume is super beneficial because it can catch any spelling mistakes and especially with everyone giving their input, we have like the web designers, and the HR department just giving you tips on what to put on there and how your resume should look is just super helpful especially with LinkedIn building your network, because having a bigger network on LinkedIn just makes you look better to employers in the future.  Just getting all of these interns together and helping us connect more and build our network is something that I’ve enjoyed quite a bit.  

SM: So, tell me about that project that you have done so far.

CDF:  So the project was just making sure that everyone who accepted the internship was in the system in the correct spreadsheet.  Just to make sure that we got everyone who accepted and we have forms of contacting them.  So, it was just a tiny thing just to make sure everyone is accounted for.  And I think the deadline to accept the internship was Labor Day, so that project’s completed for now.  

SM: Round 1, yeah.  So, are there any projects that you’ve heard about that you’re excited about doing, or do you not really know what you’re going to be doing for the next couple of months?  

CDF: So there are a few projects, and one of them deals with onboarding, I’m looking forward to that one.  There’s another one mentioned about metrics, so just like measuring, I guess maybe like intern… what’s the word… retention, turnover, how everyone’s doing, how many interns are in X department and stuff.  Just, seeing how this program is doing itself.  I think that would be cool because that’s something that will definitely help me in the future and in my future career because we want to reduce retention, etc. because those cost a lot.  But with like interns, since this is not as costly as what would happen in the future it’s good experience.

SM: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.  It’s a really cool program to see how it’s evolved based on the feedback of interns and that those projects that we are assigned and then work on are implemented.  So, what are your goals for both the internship and then your time after?  

CDF: So my goal for the internship, it sort of doubles back to what I said before what I’m looking forward to, it would just be, growing, gaining a lot of experience, because there’s so much in the HR process that I feel like I haven’t gotten my hands on.  Again, I’ve learned about it in theory, but I haven’t put it into practice, so who knows if those skills are the same.  Because I feel like real life obviously isn’t like the textbook.  So unless I encounter it with real life experience I won’t know how to encounter it later in the field.  So, it’s just great to look forward to learning this, because again, I feel like there’s just so many aspects you can encounter, that just having any foundation or like any brief knowledge on it would just help later on.  Of course you’re not going to know every situation like the back of your hand, and you’re going to have to impromptu things or go up on your feet running, so just having a little bit would just help in the long run, and for after the internship, it’s something I’m looking into, there are a lot of companies, like, I’m not sure necessarily, I’ve heard especially since I’ve spoken to a lot of alumni at my school that expectations post-graduation, especially with covid, you aren’t expected to get a job right away.  So, I guess just browsing the job market and seeing where I could work, who I can work for, again, the environment that I would like, and just seeing, where would I be best fit.  Like, I hope to find a job that has a great environment that I would look forward to going to everyday and just talking to coworkers who are also equally as passionate about the job as well.  I guess just building the foundation for my career path after, and for my career path after, it’s just making connections through my network and hopefully eventually becoming a professor, who knows if I’ll dip into the culinary world, but we’ll see.  

SM: Yeah, you just answered my follow up question which is what do you want to do after, and obviously covid changes all of that very drastically.  So speaking of covid, what skills are you hoping to learn from this that you can take into the next job, given the fact that workspaces are going to change so much, and all of the ways we communicate and assuming the way HR functions is going to drastically change because of the coronavirus.  So, is there anything that you learned so far, or that you’re looking to learn or that you’ve noticed doesn’t match up with the textbook because of covid, tell me about that a little bit.

CDF: So a couple things that wouldn’t match up with the textbook would just be like in-person communication like the triangle, just different modes of communication are just not working the greatest.  It’s so much easier to walk over to someone’s desk and show them hey, are my papers correct, whereas with covid, you have to scan your documents or you have to figure out new programs online that you’ve either used briefly or you’ve never used before, so it’s hard making the adjustment, but because we are making the adjustment, I’ve gained a few skills that will be so beneficial later on, since yeah, with covid, everything has changed significantly.  Whether workplaces are reopening or not, or if things will stay remote, if they do stay remote, I have connections through Slack, and I know how to use Trello boards sort of, still learning that Trello board process as that’s super new to me, but it seems quite interesting.  Knowing how to navigate that is just beneficial for the future, especially with Zoom you have your virtual backgrounds to make sure you don’t see my walls in my room, like with all the tape and stuff, so it’s just nice knowing that I already know how to use so much virtual format already going into something that may continue to stay virtual, or may transition into something else. 

SM: That makes a ton of sense, and it’s important to learn all of these things while we’re in it, so we can take them into our jobs and our futures.  So what advice would you have for someone either looking at this internship or a new intern?

CDF:  I guess with any advice, it’s always just retrospect, because you always learn after things have happened, so any advice that I give to new interns or people looking at this internship is something that all the department heads and the chain of command have been reiterating throughout this whole process is don’t be afraid to communicate, don’t be afraid to reach out.  They’re not there to hack you down and put you in your place, they’re here to help and here to help you grow exponentially.  So if you have a few questions here and there, don’t be afraid to ask because it’s better to ask and know what you need to do than sort of wing it and just maybe potentially messing up later on.  Because if you ask, you’ll receive, if you don’t ask, you risk having to do the same job twice.  So, just making sure you have your chain of command down, you email the right people, you know what Slack channel does what because we have quite a bit of Slack channels that we need to navigate.  So just knowing which department you belong to, who to communicate to, which Slack threads to go to is something I’d advise on.  And a really big thing I’d advise on which happened to me today, is just knowing that this internship is across the nation, so double check what zone you schedule something in, because that will definitely help you with deadlines that might come up, and you won’t have to miss any deadlines or miss anything that would happen or have to cause anyone to reschedule.  

SM: Yeah, and you know the whole chain of command is more than willing to answer your questions because they want every intern to be the best they can and in us asking questions, we become better interns.  So why wouldn’t they want to help?  So you mentioned your love of baking, to kind of wrap this up, give me a fun fact, what’s your favorite thing to bake?

CDF:  My favorite thing to bake that’s a fan favorite– I have two things, but the number one thing requested are nutella cookies, because they just shmack so hard.  They’re so delicious, and when they’re fresh out of the oven they taste like a molten lava cake.  

SM: Oh, that sounds so good. And what’s the other one?

CDF:  The other one would be matcha cookies, I make matcha white chocolate chip cookies, I’m a cookie person.  I don’t know with cakes, I’m so bad with cakes, I have to graduate to cakes.  So right now, I’m focusing on the cookies and later on I’ll get to the cakes.  But yeah, cookies are fun because you just roll them up and put them in the oven, cakes can potentially be dry.  

SM: You mentioned your dream class is a baking class, to be a professor for.  What does that final look like? What do they have to do?

CDF: I guess, honestly, I feel like the final for that one would just be make me something delicious, and we’ll see.  Professor’s choice.  It’ll be a feast for me, it’ll be fun for them because they can make their specialty if they want, and I get to eat a bunch of delicious food. 

SM: That sounds like a great gig.  

CDF: Hahaha, yeah.  

SM: Thank you so much Catherine, this was wonderful, and I know any of the other interns listening or hopefully future interns will learn a ton from this podcast, so thank you!

CDF: Thank you for having me, I hope you have a great rest of your day.  

SM: Thank you for tuning into the DME intern podcast. We hope you learned something about your fellow interns, more about our program, and that you come back and listen to us soon. Have a great rest of your day!