It was two of the insurance giant’s IT specialists who made the drive up I-39 from Bloomington.
The group met not only with Cathy Doederlein, director of Internships and External Relations in NIU Career Services, but also with faculty and staff from two NIU academic departments that prepare students for careers in information technology.
Among the many topics of conversation? State Farm’s new use of drones.
Nick Karonis, chair of the Department of Computer Science, had to ask: What? Really? Why? How?
Their answer was simple and, Karonis said, a smart one. According to the company’s website, State Farm “plans to explore the use of unmanned aircraft to assess potential roof damage during the claims process and respond to natural disasters.”
“It just hit the geek in me,” laughs Karonis, whose department has yet to offer courses on the programming of drones.
“But it sparked an idea for me,” he adds. “Most drones today are manual. Someone’s standing on the ground and controlling them. But drones are growing in capability. We saw that when Amazon did a piece for ‘60 Minutes’ on automatic delivery. Where computer science can play a role in drones is as they become more intelligent and automated.”
Karonis wasn’t the only one to leave that table excited.
“We had some great conversations with State Farm about what they’re doing,” Doederlein says, “and maybe some ways that they could come in and bring some curriculum-related ideas to us. Our faculty want to teach about drones.”
Discussions like these will become more frequent as NIU continues its mission to provide internships to all students who want them.
Reaching President Doug Baker’s goal already has sparked plenty of brainstorming and innovation across campus, including last spring’s pilot program to convert some on-campus student employment positions to internships.
This fall, it’s also become more centralized.
Doederlein moved from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to Career Services, which she considers the university’s “front door” when it comes to matching students and graduates with internships and jobs.
Need to set up a course on internships? She’s got experience in that. Want to host an intern? She knows how to make that happen. Seeking advice on how to structure an internship to make sure it focuses on learning outcomes? Give her a call.
Chad Glover, meanwhile, transitioned from Human Resource Services to become director of Internship Design and Development in the Office of the Vice Provost.
After a decade in the Student Employment Office and the Office of Graduate Assistantship Employment, he’s now collaborating with NIU departments to expand the number of internship opportunities on campus. He’s also working to create partnerships between the university and employers that will infuse professional development into the NIU student experience.
Partners in the process since last fall, Doederlein and Glover continue to work in concert from the Student Affairs and Academic Affairs sides of the university.
“It’s a nice mix. Sometimes an unintentional divide can occur between those two areas,” Doederlein says.
“Internships have always been a centralized process, but there has been some decentralization. This will hopefully get things more aligned back to center,” she adds, “and we’re being given the opportunity to better develop our relationships with individual academic departments.”
Efforts to help students find work – or work experience – will take center stage in coming weeks.
The annual fall career fairs continue Tuesday, Oct. 20, with the Internship Fair. Nearly 100 employers will fill the Convocation Center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to meet with NIU students seeking internships.
One day later, more than 215 employers will staff booths from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21, for the Full-time Job Fair.
Students definitely should attend, Doederlein says.
“Access to that many employers in one room is huge,” she says. “It gives you the opportunity to prove you’re more than just a piece of paper. If an employer gets 100 applications, you have to wow them with your resume. You become a piece of paper. But if you’re at the fair, and you’re dressed professionally, then you’re a handshake. You’re a smile. You’re a personality. You’re hard to turn away.”
Meeting employers face-to-face also gives students the chance to explain why their majors perfectly complement the jobs on the table, she adds, even if they don’t seem like natural fits.
Doederlein also encourages faculty to come to the fairs – and, if necessary, to excuse their students from class to do so as well. Faculty who stroll the aisles of the Convo might see alums from their programs, she says, and can make personal introductions for their current students.
“By attending, our faculty can get a better sense of what the fairs are all about,” she says. “Any time they do come, they’re always impressed with how our students represent themselves and NIU, and they’re always impressed with the companies.”
Good attendance also encourages the employers to return for the spring fairs and in the years to come, she adds.
Meanwhile, employer participation goes beyond the fairs. “That’s just a part of their strategy,” Doederlein says.
Employers also work with Career Services to connect with academic departments for class and student organization presentations, come to campus to conduct practice interviews with students and encourage students to visit Career Services for help with their “personal branding” and to access Huskies Get Hired to search for internships and jobs.
The week of Oct. 19 also brings the start of a new initiative – the On-Campus Internship Professional Development Series – to reinforce the concept that thriving in the workplace requires more than a practical application of classroom knowledge.
- “The Art of Disagreeing and Maintaining Professional or Personal Relationships”
presented by Sarah Klaper
Monday, Oct. 19, 6 to 7 p.m., Campus Life 100
- “Standing on One Leg: What Canadian Geese and Leaders Have in Common”
presented by Renique Kersh
Thursday, Nov. 5, 2 to 3 p.m., Neptune Central SE 109
- “Working Effectively with Coworkers from Different Age Groups”
presented by Elizabeth Hanrahan and Elora Voyles
Thursday, Nov. 12, 6 to 7:30 p.m., Stevenson Towers Smart Classroom 175
- “Ethical Decision Making at Work”
presented by William McCoy
Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2 to 3 p.m., Campus Life 100
- “Beyond Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: The Value of Professional Networks”
presented by Vernese Edghill-Walden
Monday, Nov. 23, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., Campus Life 100
- “Positively NIU: Making Every Interaction Count”
presented by Lesley Gilbert
Monday, Nov. 30, 2 to 3:30 p.m., Neptune Central SE 109
NIU students who attend any or all of the sessions will enjoy an advantage over their competition when they enter the job market, Glover says. On-campus employers interested in registering their student-workers can contact Glover at (815) 753-2056 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“These will benefit students no matter what industry they’re going into,” Glover says. “Written communication. Oral communication. Working in a team environment. Working with people from diverse backgrounds. These are the core, transferable skills and learning outcomes that employers are telling universities are critically important.”
Although all of this fall’s inaugural speakers are from campus, Glover hopes that off-campus employers and NIU alumni will also deliver some of the presentations at future workshops. He also intends to expand the program to off-campus employers who hire NIU students on a part-time basis.
“If you own a business, or work for an employer that hires NIU students into part-time jobs while they are in school, I would like to talk to you,” he says. “I think we have an opportunity to partner together to develop something unique and special.”
Finding NIU fans among employers isn’t hard.
Cintas, the industry leader in supplying corporate identity uniform programs, entrance and logo mats, restroom supplies, promotional products, first aid, fire protection products and more, is allowed to recruit at only 45 schools nationwide.
NIU is on that short list, Doederlein says, adding that Cintas recruiters are excited about NIU’s “best practice” emphasis on internships.
But capitalizing on this fall’s momentum will require continued – and heightened – buy-in from campus.
More on-campus departments have turned student employment jobs into internships, Glover says, including the Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships, the Division of Information Technology, Campus Recreation and the Campus Activities Board.
Students, meanwhile, “see it as an opportunity to build their experience and build their resumes in an enhanced way that was not available before,” Glover says. “They see it as more than just a paycheck they take home at the end of the week but a way to improve skills that are important after they leave here.”
Doederlein hopes those students will become internship evangelists for their classmates.
“NIU has a lot of students who are first-generation, paying their own way, working multiple jobs. Convincing them to take time away from their studies and their jobs can be difficult, and I understand that’s sometimes a tough thing for a student to swallow,” she says.
“We need to give our students the tools that help them see how internships can fit them,” she adds. “Does that existing job qualify for consideration as an internship? Could they reduce their hours there to take on an internship? Can we get them financial aid for internships? We’re figuring out the resources.”