June 24, 2024
Life At Witt

Matthew Gerardi ’26 and Paige Jackson ‘26

Rising juniors land customer service internships with alum-founded Erie Insurance Company as new Preferred Internships Partnership launches

Two Wittenberg students are leveraging Wittenberg’s exciting new partnership with Erie Insurance, which is headquartered in Erie, Pennsylvania. Rising juniors Matthew Gerardi and Paige Jackson, both class of 2026, are gaining valuable expertise as new customer service interns this summer at the Fortune 500 company.

Erie Insurance was founded in the 1920s by Wittenberg graduate Henry Orth (H.O.) Hirt, class of 1911, and a friend, O.G. Crawford. H.O Hirt’s daughter, the late Susan Hirt Hagen, class of 1957, and her daughter, Sarah Hagen McWilliams, class of 1988, followed in their father/grandfather’s footsteps in graduating from Wittenberg. Both the Hirt and Hagen families have also given back to their alma mater over the years, including endowing the H.O. Hirt Chair in History, establishing the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic & Urban Engagement in 2008, and serving on the University’s Board of Directors. Susan Hirt Hagen’s husband, Tom, is the current Chairman of the Erie Insurance Board.

“H.O. clearly loved his time here as you can see evidence of Witt in multiple places around their corporate campus,” said Rachel Wilson, associate professor of business and economics and director of partnership outreach, who visited Erie’s campus last September along with a contingent from Wittenberg.

“I was extremely impressed with the company culture and its seemingly genuine interest in recruiting our students for internships. Both Hirt and Hagen are revered around the company. It appears that part of that is because they have created a corporate culture that is impressive. They have NEVER laid off anyone (including during the pandemic). They offer both a pension and a company match to a 401K and pay 85% of the health insurance. They seem to place a high priority on onboarding, training, educating, and taking care of both the corporate employees and the independent agents. I also got the feeling that they work hard at outreach and service. The company has an archivist, a librarian, docents for tours, an art curator, a museum, etc., and Wittenberg appears in many of these items.”

Last summer, representatives from Erie Insurance visited Wittenberg to discuss how they could partner with the University. The group included Tom and Sarah.

“After meeting, we came up with a ‘preferred internships partnership’ with them,” Wilson explained. “It basically means our students get a second look. There isn’t a special application for Wittenberg students; however, they will be flagged upon application. Erie has hopes of converting 50 percent of its interns into full-time employees. Two recruiters came to campus to visit classes in September and then returned during Homecoming. It really seems like a robust partnership.” 

To apply for an Erie internship, students must have completed their sophomore year and have maintained at least a 3.0 grade point average. Erie provides those selected with an $1,800 housing stipend, along with opportunities to stay at a local university (Gannon).

Gerardi, from New Carlisle, Ohio, and a double major in economics and marketing, is excited about the opportunity.

“I am really looking forward to connecting with professionals and interns there with me,” he said. “My responsibilities at Erie vary frequently to get me exposed to as many different aspects of the business in the short amount of time I am there. These responsibilities give real-world experience that is fast paced in a professional environment. It could range from attending meetings, consulting with customers, emailing, etc. I will also have a capstone that I will have to do during my time there.”

This opportunity was introduced to Gerardi during a class presentation with two representatives from Erie.

“Erie caught my eye for a lot of reasons,” he said. “For one, they were specifically looking for people in my class. Another reason was that I wanted to get away from home a little bit to see what other places have to offer and become more reliant on myself with some security. Lastly, the representatives from Erie were so friendly to me, and we hit if off instantly. Erie is such a good opportunity with many benefits that were very appealing for anyone looking for an internship. Erie is a pretty competitive internship and very well known. For the last couple of years, they have had over 100 interns during the summer.”

Wilson provided some stats from the Ohio Insurance Institute about Ohio’s industry. According to her research, Ohio will have a need for 108,000 new workers in the next 10 years. Ohio ranks 7th in the U.S. in total insurance industry employment and 2nd for property and casualty insurance employment. Ohio's insurance industry is a large state employer with more than 115,000 employees and wages of more than $10 billion. With a rapid retirement rate, the insurance industry is desperate for new education programs.

“I am hoping that Erie shows me what it takes, and what I need to do before graduating to be prepared for the business world,” Gerardi said. “Not only that, but it will also help me find what I truly want to do when I graduate. The importance of securing an internship is to be alert and be early. Witt has prepared me for this with its interactive learning style, which includes team building projects, mock interviews, and open classroom discussions on real world problems.

“What makes Wittenberg so special is the urgency to help one another,” he continued. “Everyone is involved here and supports the same cause to create success in our lives once we leave. This opportunity could not have been possible without the guidance and support from Dr. Wilson and all the business professors I have had thus far.”

Jackson, an economics and finance double major from Tipp City, Ohio, also learned about the internship through Erie Insurance representatives visiting campus during one of her fall semester classes.

“I was immediately interested in it because it seemed extremely rewarding,” she said. “Insurance can certainly be a competitive field, but during the interview process, the Erie team was so personable that you felt a genuine connection. 

“Through this opportunity, some of the things I will be able to take part in are challenging assignments, educational programs, and roundtables, as well as networking events with the CEO and executives,” Jackson continued. “The thing that I am looking most forward to is being surrounded by capable and interesting people, while enhancing my own skills and learning valuable information. I want to gain additional skills in networking along with industry-specific knowledge. Networking is a key skill to succeed in many career fields and gaining industry-specific skills will help me to become a more valuable asset in the field I hope to go into.”

Jackson explained that Wittenberg provides such a unique college experience with its small size allowing students to not only get personal attention from professors, but also a sense of community leading to opportunities like this.

“My time at Wittenberg has prepared me for this internship in many ways,” she said. “The first way was the fact that I actually applied for it. Being at a school where the faculty and staff all believe in you and want you to succeed builds up confidence to do things you may have otherwise not done. Another way in which Wittenberg has prepared me for this internship is that it provides a strong balance between independence and knowing there is support if you need it. I am the type of person who does not like to ask for help, but sometimes it's necessary. I think is the thing that has prepared me most for this internship is the culture of Wittenberg. The small campus creates a sense of community, and everyone genuinely wants the best for everyone, which leads to students feeling empowered.”

Jackson offers some advice to students looking for internship.

“First, apply early. If you see something you possibly could be interested in, do not hesitate to apply to it,” she said. “Second, use Handshake as there are so many opportunities on there. That's how I got my internship for this summer. Lastly, build personal connections as you go through the interview process. It is obviously important to show professionalism and highlight ways in which you would benefit the company, but don't be a robot. Be authentic to who you are.”

Wilson added that there are many career paths in this area such as actuary, human resources, marketing, finance, law, communications, computer science, cybersecurity, underwriting, and operations.

“I am working on advancing a risk management minor here at Wittenberg,” she said. “Wittenberg offers an introduction to risk management class, and we intend to use the exam certifications from The National Alliance of Insurance Education and Research. In the intro course, students will take the first two exams and upon successful completion, students may list themselves as a University Associated Certified Risk Manager (UACRM). In the advanced course, students will take the remaining three exams, and, upon successful completion, may list themselves as a Certified Risk Manager (CRM). Risk management and insurance is not just for careers in sales as insurance agents.”

Cindy Holbrook
Cindy Holbrook
Senior Communications Assistant

About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

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