SRU corporate security majors interning with Pfizer as part of new agreement
Robert Baker, a Slippery Rock University senior dual homeland security and corporate security studies major from Beaver, is interning with Pfizer this semester as part of an agreement between SRU and Pfizer called the Experiential Scholar Alliance.
March 28, 2022
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer are well known for making vaccines that protect people from COVID-19, but those same companies need to be protected from all sorts of risks as well. That protection is now becoming well known to Slippery Rock University students who are benefitting from two internship agreements between Pfizer and SRU's Homeland and Corporate Security Studies Department.
Brian Wisneski, a part-time SRU instructor of homeland and corporate security studies, is Pfizer's director of physical risk mitigation. He oversees physical security for Pfizer's largest research, manufacturing and distribution facilities around the world, as his area is responsible for everything from camera and alarm systems to the contracts with vendors who provide and employ security guards to protect their facilities.
"Homeland and corporate security are about protecting the nation's infrastructure, which mostly belongs to the private sector, and all types of events can affect the infrastructure," Wisneski said. "We deal with things like accounting for our employees who worked in Ukraine (after Russia's invasion) and preventing COVID-19 vaccine counterfeiting."
Wisneski, who is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and teaches two SRU classes remotely each semester, said the demands of the pandemic have increased physical security at Pfizer, which has more than 150 proprietary and contracted manufacturing facilities worldwide, some of which employ thousands of people.
"The big push has been getting factories ramped up," Wisneski said. "We've been doing injectables for decades, but with our infrastructure, every place is slightly different and we had to retool production lines and make sure that people can get in and out and determine who is getting access and where people can go. We have hundreds of people descending on one factory to get a product ready, and we have to account for background checks and protecting proprietary information and processes."
SRU students are part of the big push for physical security at Pfizer thanks to two agreements between the company and the University. The Pfizer/SRU Experiential Scholar Alliance places one student per semester with an unpaid internship with Pfizer to work on a specific project under the mentorship of a Pfizer employee. The Pfizer Summer Growth Experience provides students with summer-long paid internships where they are embedded with a Pfizer operating unit and work on a variety of projects. Students from other colleges and universities participate in the Summer Growth Experience, but one SRU student per summer is placed in the program.
This semester, Robert Baker, a senior dual homeland security and corporate security studies major from Beaver, is interning with Pfizer as part of the Experiential Scholar Alliance. Baker is working remotely on a first-of-its-kind project for Pfizer, meeting via videoconference with stakeholders. He then develops key performance indicators, or KPIs, that are used for implementing contracts with the largest security staffing companies in the world.
"He's essentially interviewing people at every level of the security hierarchy, all the way up to senior vice presidents, at companies that provide Pfizer its security guards, and then he reports back to people at Pfizer," Wisneski said. "He's asking questions like, 'What do you need to be successful?' and measuring that with KPIs so that people at Pfizer are providing them what they need.
"He's concentrating on organizational structures and using KPIs in contracts to ensure a high-quality return on our investments. He gets to apply what he's learned in his SRU classes because he knows how security management should look and he's comparing that to the current programs (between Pfizer and its contracted security companies).
Wisneski said the interns' projects are not data entry or other "grunt work" that could be outsourced through a temp agency, but rather projects with meaningful business outcomes and experiences that the interns can benefit from during their careers.
"It's a great experience because I get to interview people from a lot of different backgrounds and see the interpersonal connection between an actual vendor of security and the purchaser," Baker said. "It's very important to ensure quality and efficacy between the two parties and to understand the dynamics of the relationship and how they play off one another."
Baker, who previously worked in security for three years at two hospitals within the Heritage Valley Health System, has an appreciation for working for a company like Pfizer.
"It means a great deal because I know what they're doing and the products they're making really matter," Baker said. "I'm also able to really gauge the world through the lens of security as it is right now, especially during the pandemic, and how security affects how organizations communicate and the different issues they are facing."
Baker is not the only SRU student interning with Pfizer as part of the agreements. Ashley Labeka, a senior dual homeland security and corporate security studies major from Meadville interned with Pfizer as part of the Summer Growth Experience last year and Faith Johnson, a junior homeland security major from Youngsville, will intern this summer.
Although Wisneski is the internship adviser for SRU students working at Pfizer, he is not their direct supervisor on projects, and he's not solely involved with the selection of interns. Pfizer receives many internship applicants from students at larger universities, including Ivy League schools.
"Our program at SRU is unique because it prepares students to specifically serve the mission of physical security for large organizations," Wisneski said. "Our students can talk the talk and walk the walk. They consistently were able to (tell interview panels), 'Oh, I've done that,' whether it's designing security systems for a warehouse or putting in access controls. They've done the nuts-and-bolts types of things in their classes."
"All the faculty from the homeland security and corporate security programs are amazing," Baker said. "They're personable, extremely intelligent and they truly want what's best for us when we graduate. The professors come from various backgrounds and offer unique perspectives."
More information about SRU's homeland and corporate security studies programs is available on the department's website.
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