Internships and co-ops help IT grads learn business savvy
"Real-world, professional experience helps students to advance their skills and learn about how organizations really work." – Paul Brockish, We Energies
"It's an opportunity to get a sneak peek at what's out there before you finish college." – Kevin McCarthy, Sun Life Financial
By Dan Margherita
Senior Contributing Editor
Decisions, decisions. You're in your sophomore or junior year at college. Do you (a) start looking early at what's out there or (b) just wait to graduate and hope that you find the job you want? The smart choice, most believe, is (a).
According to Paul Brockish, IT corporate center team leader at We Energies (Milwaukee, WI), "Internship programs provide significant benefit to the organization as well as the students. Real-world professional experience while still in school enables students to advance their skills and learn how organizations really work. The organizations also benefit from the contributions the students make and the new perspectives and ideas they offer. For everyone involved, the internship serves as a valuable trial period before considering fulltime employment."
Johann Sonnenberg, lead IT analyst/programmer at Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN), agrees. He's been instrumental in developing and facilitating many of the IT internship opportunities at the clinic. "The IT internship program is essential to the improvement of Mayo Clinic IT," he stresses. "Bringing in students gives the interns and Mayo staff new ideas, new thought processes, and different perspectives on software design and development. The intern gets real-world experience while the Mayo staff enjoys mentoring.
"In 2011, Mayo Clinic's Global Business Solutions IT employed five interns, with employment timelines varying from three to eleven months," says Sonnenberg. "Four of those interns were hired into analyst/programmer and IT operations specialist positions."
Eric Bohn: intern to employee at Mayo Clinic
Eric Bohn heard about the Mayo Clinic internship opportunity by accident. "I had lined up an internship at another company," he recalls, "when a classmate asked me if I'd seen the e-mail about the Mayo Clinic. They hadn't sent it to me because they thought I was all set, so I asked him to forward it. I applied right away."
Bohn started his internship at Mayo in February 2011. The terms of the internship require an evaluation every three months before being extended for another three. You're not allowed to intern for longer than a year without moving to some kind of employee status.
"After my first quarter, they wanted to extend me for the next six months," Bohn reports proudly. Within ten months, after earning his BSCS at Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC, Rochester, MN), he became an employee.
Today, Bohn is an analyst programmer. He's working on an application that will be used by patients entering the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center (DAHLC), named for S. Daniel Abraham, founder of Slim Fast Foods and a patient, friend and benefactor of Mayo Clinic. The new online procedure will replace a paper version of a 120-question health assessment.
"The current document can be pretty tedious," explains Bohn. "Some of the questions may not pertain to the patient at all. This digital app will be smart enough to filter out questions that aren't appropriate. I'm also working on the coding as well as writing up the website portion and delivery of results. I'm covering everything from the client-facing front end to decision-making at the back end."
Bohn is a native Minnesotan. After high school, he enrolled in college but quit when he was nineteen to start his own business selling aftermarket automotive parts. "After a few years, I wasn't enjoying the business anymore," he says. "I wanted a better quality of life, definitely more money and maybe eventually to start another business."
He was twenty-three when he enrolled at RCTC. "Before college, I didn't have a huge interest in computers," he admits. "I was into skateboarding and cars."
He had planned to intern at Mayo in the first half of the year and another firm in the second half. "At the time, a lot of people at the other firm seemed fearful of losing their jobs," he notes. "I liked the culture at Mayo Clinic so when they offered me the extension, I decided to stay."
The internship was completely different from what he expected. "I thought I'd be doing things that no one else wanted to do," he says, "but they saw value in me and I was doing real development work right away. It was a very collaborative environment."
The internship looks good on a resume, and the networking is invaluable, says Bohn. "You may not get a job where you interned but they may be able to refer you elsewhere in the field. You can be the best developer in the world but if no one knows you, you're going to have a hard time finding a job."
Bohn hopes to get promoted to senior developer shortly, and then move on to a management role. "I like the technical work but I also like being involved in everything, seeing the big picture and then breaking it down," he says. When you're in the trenches, you don't always see where the ship is going. I want to be steering the ship."
Kevin McCarthy at Sun Life Financial: internship leads to RLDP
His first days as an employee at Sun Life Financial (Wellesley, MA) were "a culture shock," says Kevin McCarthy. "Despite my six-month internship, the work was a lot more real. The people are a lot more intense, but I enjoy that. The fact that I'm staying really shows that this is the kind of environment I like."
Sun Life Financial offers insurance products and services to employers and their employees, including group and voluntary life, disability, dental and stop-loss insurance products. In Ireland, there's an office in Waterford that provides software development, business administration and technical helpdesk services to U.S. and Canadian divisions.
McCarthy is in his last year of Sun Life's Rotational Leadership Development Program (RLDP), a three-year international effort designed to build a future pipeline of talent. Program participants complete three one-year rotations, each in a different business area, in order to acquire critical skills, knowledge and competencies. Participants may be offered an international rotation in Canada, the U.S. or Ireland.
"Our recruitment efforts for RLDP candidates include both local and non-local schools, including historically black colleges and universities," says Eileen Adler, AVP of talent management. "We have also recruited across borders, such as in Canada and Ireland. We try to strengthen the diversity recruitment on college campuses through our relationships with campus affinity groups and student organizations like ALPFA (previously Association for Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting).
"The candidate profile for the RLDP is a broad one," she says. "Along with a strong GPA, we look for demonstrated leadership capability in extracurricular activities like clubs, student organizations or sports. We also look for varied experiences, perhaps through past internships or volunteer opportunities. Well-rounded students who can embrace learning agility, ambiguity and change are our most sought-after candidates."
McCarthy was recruited directly from his homeland in Ireland.
"I grew up in a small town in rural southwest Ireland," he says and adds with a smile, "It looks just like the scenic Irish views you see on TV but with a lot more rain."
His passion for computers goes back to elementary school. "My dad's company was upgrading its computers and he brought an old one home and I was absolutely taken with it," McCarthy recalls. "As the years went on, when the Internet became big, I wondered how I could make this machine do even more. That's when I realized IT was where I need to be."
McCarthy enrolled at University College Cork (UCC, Cork, Ireland) where he took advantage of a five-year program and graduated in 2010 with a masters in business information systems. "Mine was an innovative thesis," he explains. "I designed a computer system that did not exist in the market."
Previously, in 2008, he had been accepted to intern for six months at Sun Life's home office in Massachusetts. "The business IS department at UCC has relationships with companies near Boston," he explains. "Sun Life was one, and I signed up straight away. I had actively researched the company and knew that it was one of the top twenty companies in North America to work for. That meant more to me than anything else."
McCarthy interned at the quality assurance department of the service center, focusing on individual products and testing mainframe systems. When he graduated from UCC two years later, he went through a rigorous interview process and joined Sun Life's RLDP. "It's not easy, but once you do achieve it you feel like you've beaten out the best."
He spent his first year in Ireland as a business systems analyst. "We worked with data feeds, controlling data going from our admin systems to the Americas, like the gatekeepers. It was a more complex role than I expected right out of the gate," he says. "But it was the best thing for me because it tested what I had learned."
His second rotation brought him to Massachusetts as a project IT manager focusing on distribution. "It was a step up," McCarthy explains. "In Ireland, PMs were telling me what to do and now I was the person telling someone else what to do." He was more involved with watching schedules and budgets, but he still pitched in to help the developers and analysts meet deadlines.
Now in his third rotation, he's part of the enrollment team, responsible for figuring out how to persuade customers to sign up for Sun Life products online or via apps. "It's probably the least technical of the three rotations," he notes. "It's more of a business development and process development role."
When this rotation is up, McCarthy wants to go back into IT. "I prefer the tech side," he says. "Maybe it's that kid in me who first saw a computer when he was nine years old."
Derrell Pate: Bank of America ATP graduate
Derrell Pate is a recent graduate of the Applied Technology Program (ATP) at Bank of America (Charlotte, NC). It's a seventeen-month internship program that allows business and technology students from the University of North Carolina (UNC) Charlotte to work at the bank in their junior and senior years. At the end of the program, interns may be eligible for fulltime employment.
Pate grew up in the small town of Carthage, NC, two hours east of Charlotte. In high school, he was always interested in business and finance, and he had his eye on attending UNC Charlotte.
"Coming to Charlotte was a big change for me. The banking presence here is huge," he says. "I knew I wanted to work for a financial institution."
Pate was a business administration and finance major at UNC Charlotte. In his junior year, he learned about the internship at Bank of America. Concerned about being a good fit for the program, he supplemented his coursework with classes in management information systems. "I took enough computer classes that I could have created my own minor," he says with a smile.
The application process was intense, Pate recalls. He met separately with bank interviewers, who evaluated his technical skills, business integrity and behavioral characteristics. "It was worth it," he says. "At the end, you realize the value of all the work you put in."
Starting in the spring semester of his junior year, he worked part-time. In the summer his hours increased to forty and then went back to part-time in his senior year. By the beginning of his senior year, Pate was offered a full-time position after graduation.
"It was a huge relief," he says. "I could focus on my classes without worrying about applying for a job."
Pate's internship involved multiple roles. He was a task owner, responsible for seeing that jobs ran at certain times and making sure that his application was available to the user. He escalated alerts and outages and informed his team members. He also got approvals to grant new global users access to applications they needed to do their jobs.
"It's overwhelming when you come in," he says, "but there is always someone there to help. We weren't running around getting people coffee. We were doing actual work!"
Pate graduated in June 2012 and joined Bank of America as a business analyst. He 's on a team of fourteen people who work in operations support, specifically on consumer web applications.
"We report on enhancements and work on defects," he notes. "We communicate with internal clients, work on resource management, evaluate the risk and impact of changes, and prioritize items for the development team. We prioritize what the business wants first, maybe new functionality or application layout."
Relationships are important to Pate. "The Applied Technology Program allowed me to meet business professionals I otherwise wouldn't have met," he says. "You have anywhere from seventeen to thirty-five college students working together so the atmosphere is lively. We've created our own Applied Technology Program culture."
Internship helps Scott Sullivan launch career at We Energies
"Don't apply for a job blind," advises Scott Sullivan. "If you aren't sure what you're getting into, you're not going to be happy."
Sullivan is an associate IT applications consultant at We Energies (Milwaukee, WI). He works with the utility's corporate IT application support team.
We Energies is the trade name of Wisconsin Electric Power and Wisconsin Gas, principal utility subsidiaries of Wisconsin Energy Corporation, serving over 2 million electric and gas customers in Wisconsin and northwestern Michigan.
Sullivan grew up in Hartford, WI, just northeast of Milwaukee. He did two years at the University of Wisconsin (Green Bay, WI) before realizing that "something just wasn't right," he says. "It's a great school but I was just looking for something different."
He transferred to Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI) and graduated in 2011 with dual degrees in finance and information technology.
"I was always a numbers guy, so that was a no brainer," Sullivan explains. "Marquette almost sets you up with a double major and it's a waste if you don't take advantage of it. A professor got me hooked on IT. I liked how an IT career is always evolving and always developing into something different."
Sullivan also interned at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company (Milwaukee, WI). "They were great too," he says. "They treated me well, and they developed my financial and financial analysis skill sets."
He chose the IT track over finance because of the project management aspect. "At Marquette, we did a class project for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that involved analyzing the use of Remedy, an IT service management application," he explains. "As students, we came in and evaluated the current operations and came up with a line of solutions, tested it out, and presented the options to them. It was like a dry run for the team I'm on now," he says.
His first few weeks as an intern at We Energies were spent in training. Before long he was asked to assume a lead role for testing. "As an intern I was already getting a bigger picture of how we operate," he says.
The mentoring style varied as Sullivan worked with business analysts, developers and project managers to learn the entire spectrum of project management. "As I gained experience and their trust, I was treated more as a team member than an intern," he notes. "Not only did I learn how we help our employees, I also learned the ins and outs of project management."
Sullivan's experience was like a whirlwind. He started his internship in May, was made a job offer in November, graduated on December 18 and began as a fulltime employee on December 27, 2011. From day one, he knew that there was a lot of room for growth and that he wanted to work at We Energies.
He's now in third-tier support. "I support the people who support the people who support the external clients," he says with a smile. "Our team manages a variety of applications including Remedy, one of our primary support applications. It's used to organize our IT service management practice, and facilitate customer service across the organization."
"Interning is key to developing yourself personally and professionally," says Sullivan. "It's definitely key to increasing your skill set and developing what you're passionate about."
Longevity is a feature of the We Energies workforce. "We have people celebrating twenty-five, thirty-five years, and more," Sullivan says. "That speaks well for the company. It provides us with opportunities to grow professionally and I can see myself being here for the long term. This is a fantastic company to work for!"
Brockish notes that "Scott had a successful and productive seven-month internship, the result of which was an offer for a fulltime position after graduation. He knew what our company and department were about and we knew we were getting a motivated, capable new team member."
Comcast: internships help students refine career goals
"Each year, Comcast is proud to employ hundreds of interns from across the country in many departments and functions, including engineering, marketing, communications and community investment," says Raúl Valentin, VP of talent acquisition. "Internship experiences can really help students discover what career path they want to pursue while also setting graduates apart from other potential job candidates," he notes.
"Comcast has successfully hired several interns after graduation, and others have come back after some additional post-graduate experience," says Valentin. "The goal of our internship program is to provide hands-on experience that will prepare students to successfully enter the workforce.
"We are particularly proud of our partnerships with the Emma L. Bowen Foundation, T. Howard Foundation and Inroads to find diverse internship candidates," he says. "In 2012 we had a total of 260 interns, including thirty-five percent who came through our diverse partnerships."
Theresa Sung got her foot in the door at Comcast
"Being an intern made me realize how much I am capable of," says Theresa Sung, engineer I at the Greenwood Village, CO tech center of Comcast Corporation (Philadelphia, PA).
Sung was valedictorian of her high school graduating class. With scholarship money in hand, her options were wide open. She entertained thoughts of being a teacher, artist or writer, but never saw engineering in her future.
"My parents are from China and are very traditional. They're a big influence in my life," she says. "They wanted me to go into a career that was financially stable."
So she chose a school with applied programs in science and mathematics, engineering, economics and energy: Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO). "I was drawn into electrical engineering through robotics," she recalls. "Electrical engineering was a good choice. It was challenging."
Sung graduated magna cum laude in 2011 with a major in electrical engineering and a minor in public affairs. "Only about ten percent of the students in my major were women," she reports. "I never thought that being a woman was a hindrance; in fact, sometimes it was more of a help. Professors tended to remember me and my name."
It also helped her stand out in organizations like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers and the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi.
Sung was accepted into the school's McBride honors program in public affairs, a program funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and designed for future leaders in engineering and applied sciences. The minor allowed her to strike a balance with her tech courses. "We learned about leadership, how to interact with people of other cultures and how to work on teams," she notes.
The program required Sung to take a trip abroad to study institutions and agencies dealing with science policy and international affairs, and she had to take summer classes. The heavy schedule was hard to combine with many internships, but Sung was able to land a co-op in an operational segment at Comcast.
She averaged about eight hours a week throughout her senior year. "At first, I helped where help was needed," says Sung. "Later on, I was working in programming, designing web tools and web pages. At the end of my first summer, there were hints that I would be hired full time when I graduated, and that's what happened."
Today, as part of the automation team, Sung spends the better part of the day sitting at her computer, doing research and helping other team members. All of the team's clients are internal users. While she has an eye toward the business side, for now she wants to build her technical background and reputation before eventually stepping into project management.
"Colorado Mines taught me how to find a career and hold onto it," says Sung. "They also taught me teamwork and how to work in an engineering environment. Co-ops and internships get your foot in the door. You can't learn everything about the engineering world in school."
Interns get hands-on experience at Greeley and Hansen
"Creating a continuous pipeline of new talent at the college level is a long-term strategy to solve one of the firm's critical business needs, the infusion of talented, entry-level engineers," says John C. Robak, EVP and COO at Greeley and Hansen (Chicago, IL), a water, wastewater, water reuse, and solid waste engineering firm. "We offer a dynamic internship program that is centered on career and personal development for technical students.
"At Greeley and Hansen, we've taken the traditional internship idea a step further. Our ten to twelve-week fulltime paid internship program provides college junior and senior engineering students with an opportunity to work on real-life projects under the direct mentorship of a Greeley and Hansen engineer. In addition to on-the-job training, the interns participate in four informal webcast training sessions where they can learn from in-house experts about topics like CADD and GIS technology and process systems."
Kelvin Coles learns business savvy as a Greeley and Hansen intern
"School gives you the tools to be a good engineer," says Kelvin Coles, project engineer at Greeley and Hansen, "but it doesn't prepare you for interfacing with clients. My internship piqued my interest to know more about how business works, understand the culture of Greeley and Hansen and the role of a consulting organization like us."
Coles interned with the company in 2008 while earning his 2009 BSCE at Old Dominion University (ODU, Norfolk, VA) with a minor in environmental engineering. He recalls the manager's reply when asked what the firm does day to day.
"He said, 'We serve our clients. We worry about things to make sure that they don't have to,'" says Coles. "I always carry that with me."
The project Coles is working on started in 2007. The team is conducting studies for the cities of Chesapeake and Portsmouth, VA. "It's a sanitary sewer evaluation project that will produce a long-term rehabilitation plan for the sewer infrastructure," he says.
"We gather data on things like their gravity collection system to identify the areas they need to focus on. We did some modeling for them showing them how different parts of their collection system might be compromised during storm events. That's what is really driving the projects."
At twenty-five, Coles is frequently the youngest in the room. "I used to be intimidated a little but I like challenges," he says. "I get a lot of positive feedback. I don't have to stay in my cube and do tasks by myself. I get to collaborate with other people and throw my ideas in."
Coles grew up in Richmond, VA. He chose an engineering path because math and science came naturally to him and combined both areas. When ODU offered a scholarship, he jumped at the chance.
An internship coordinator at the school told him about Greeley and Hansen and urged him to intern there. "I checked out their website and it looked like they were doing some interesting projects," says Coles. "I wanted to be a part of it."
Greeley and Hansen brings all interns to Chicago from offices around the country. "You learn about the history of the company and what the brand is all about," notes Coles. "They bring in motivational speakers and show you how they do business development. Talking with all of the other interns is a good experience."
Coles is on track to receive his MS in environmental engineering at ODU in 2013. He hopes to earn his Professional Engineer certification and eventually become a project manager. He is a member of the American Water Works Association (www.awwa.org), the Greeley and Hansen Young Professionals Committee and its urban infrastructure group.
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