Sometimes when a student and I are navigating our way through a difficult academic process, I will ask the student, "Okay, what's the name of the person you dealt with in that office in case we need to follow up?" Nine times out of ten, the answer is: "I have no idea."
There are three pieces of advice I like to give to my students:
1. Always know the name of the person to whom you're speaking---staff assistants in academic departments, employees in the Registrar's Office, financial aid counselors in the Office of Student Aid, etc.
2. Be sure you know the names of all of your professors every semester. Their names appear on their syllabi, and they are listed on the Schedule of Courses. Ask questions in class and stay in touch with instructors you especially liked. After the class is over, tell these faculty members what you appreciated about their courses and keep them updated about your current progress and developing interests.
3. Resist the temptation to be anonymous. At a large institution, it's very easy to remain unknown and choosing that path is academically and professionally detrimental. Make sure that faculty and staff know who you are. Routinely introduce yourself and repeat your name in every interaction.
The majority of Penn State students take important steps to enhance their professional development by participating in service activities, taking on leadership roles in student organizations, completing internships---all of which are tremendously valuable endeavors. But one critical aspect of their professional development that students routinely overlook is the significance of professional relationships here at Penn State.
When people apply for jobs, their potential employers want to know something about the work that these applicants did previously. They want to know how they handle stress or set-backs, about their work ethic, their communication skills, and what roles they take on in collaborative efforts (read: group projects).
Similarly, whether students plan to enter the workforce or apply to law school or graduate school or join the Peace Corps, those institutions and agencies will want to know what the applicants bring to the table. In other words, they want to know who these recent graduates are -- not just information about their grade point averages and a laundry list of their extracurricular activities -- but a real sense of them as potential employees and colleagues.
In terms of your own professional development, begin to think about Penn State as not only the place where you earned your degree, but also as the institution -- made up of faculty and staff -- that future employers will consult with to assess your candidacy for a job, graduate school admission, and so on.
At a large school like Penn State, students have to work a little harder on the relationship aspect of their professional development. I know this because I am a Penn State graduate myself. But I also know that students are fully capable of taking on this challenge to expand their professional networks.
So, again, very simply: know whom you're talking to, learn your professors' names, and invest energy in becoming known for the person you are.