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NIU students ‘spring’ into consultant roles for businesses

January 27, 2015
Joe Malak

Joe Malak

Northern Illinois University is getting results for businesses by connecting them with a team of student interns.

Springboard was launched last year to provide customized assessments to small and midsized companies while providing internships to students. The program helps businesses develop international markets, learn about competitors, enhance their websites, expand social media, improve marketing messages and remove cyber vulnerabilities.

“Often these companies don’t have the internal staff or expertise to tackle special projects,” said Luanne Mayorga, a coordinator for the NIU Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development. “Springboard provides that extra set of hands, allowing these projects to be completed through research and analysis.”

Businesses pay an assessment fee to work with a team of students trained to analyze information on proprietary databases. Assessment costs vary depending on the scope and complexity of a project.

“We have subscriptions to many proprietary databases,” Mayorga said, “allowing our student analysts to provide the type of research that is available to larger businesses.”

Students work as a team to see a problem from different perspectives. To ensure quality work, they are supervised by a staff member or graduate assistant.

Yangfei Zhou

Yangfei Zhou

They typically intern for a semester and can work on several projects at a time for different companies. By the end of the semester, the group gets to present the findings to a client.

Tom Wolfe, a senior studying engineering and technology, has worked as a Springboard project leader of a 12-person team to help businesses with branding, development, international trade and social media strategies through market research.

He has interned with Springboard since last April and has helped many businesses, including an engineering firm, a fabric business, a circuit maker, the automotive industry and a mining business.

“It really has allowed me to learn how a business works,” the 23-year-old said.

By noticing that different companies share similar problems, Wolfe said, he has a better understanding of what it takes to run a business.

He has also enjoyed the opportunity to network with clients and work with a diverse group of students from other fields.

Student analysts earn minimum wage, which primarily comes from assessment fees, and other students earn academic credit. Economic majors in their senior year can participate to complete a capstone project, while students in the College of Business get experiential learning credit for the Passport Program. As Springboard expands, Mayorga said, more NIU colleges are expected to participate.

For more information, call (815) 753-6927 or email [email protected].