Discover Financial Services to launch ‘campus innovator program’

A portion of the bottom level of Founders Memorial Library at NIU will become home to the Discover Campus Innovator Program. (NIU file photo)

Discover Financial Services and Northern Illinois University are announcing the launch of an exciting program that will allow a select number of students to explore new ideas, help solve real-world business challenges and collaborate with working professionals without ever leaving the university’s campus.

The “Discover Campus Innovator Program” will provide tech-savvy students with opportunities to help research and develop new technologies for the company.

The program will kick off this coming fall in a newly renovated, 5,900-square-foot area of “71 North,” the university’s collaborative space for innovation centrally located on campus in the bottom level of Founders Memorial Library. Discover and NIU have entered into an agreement, whereby the company will lease and renovate the space.

Students selected for the Discover Campus Innovator Program will be paid to work on and help develop new Discover technologies in the areas of mobile-software development, web-application coding, and person-to-person payment systems. They also will be able to present their work and ideas to peers and company representatives, providing them with an opportunity to experience Discover’s company culture. The company recruited students for the program earlier this spring.

“Discover has a long-standing tradition of promoting education and developing products and services that help our customers better manage their finances,” said Glenn Schneider, chief information officer at Discover and an NIU alumnus. “What better way to accomplish both than to collaborate with the diverse and talented students at Northern Illinois University to improve the customer experience while supporting education in the Chicagoland area.”

An illustration showing proposed renovations to the space to be occupied by the Discover Campus Innovator Program.

Discover is a leading direct banking and payment services company with one of the most recognized brands in U.S. financial services. Since its inception in 1986, the company has become one of the nation’s largest card issuers.

“We envisioned 71 North as a place for hands-on learning and collaborations with businesses,” NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman said. “Discover provides a great anchor to this space—and we couldn’t be more thrilled for our students about this unique on-campus program. It will provide valuable learning experiences that will help students find employment once they graduate, and the project also serves as a terrific example of successful alumni coming back to engage our students.”

Discover is a leading employer of NIU alumni, and Schneider and fellow NIU alumnus Joel Suchomel, vice president of application development at Discover, helped spearhead the initiative.

Suchomel first proposed the program during a visit to campus to speak with students in computer science, one of NIU’s academic programs that stands to benefit. Since the fall of 2012, NIU’s undergraduate enrollment in computer science has surged by more than 50 percent.

“We are looking for students with a passion for exploring new ideas, collaborating and problem solving in agile teams, designing new solutions and developing innovative applications,” Suchomel said. “More importantly, we’re looking for students who live our values, empower and support each other, and are committed to building tools that will ultimately improve the lives of our customers.”

Karinne Bredberg, assistant director for commercialization and innovation in the Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships (RIPS), shepherded NIU’s effort to secure the Discover Campus Innovator Program. While the concept originated with the Department of Computer Science, Chair Nicholas Karonis and Acting Provost Christopher McCord recognized an even bigger opportunity, she said.

“This collaboration represents an incredible opportunity for NIU students to take advantage of employment with a premier company,” Bredberg said. “Our students will work alongside leading professionals, apply skills learned in the classroom to address real-world business challenges and learn what it’s like to innovate within a corporate setting.

“Additionally, we hope Discover’s presence helps NIU attract other business and entrepreneurial partners to this collaborative space, where they can engage with our top students.”

This fall’s Discover Campus Innovator Program is expected to include 40 to 50 juniors and seniors who have a minimum 3.0 GPA and are developing expertise in such areas as computer science, computer engineering, telecommunications, networking, informatics, information security and operations management, and information systems. Discover will hire or rehire students for a new round of participants and projects each semester.

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