When the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois opened its doors as Sangamon State University in 1970, founding President Robert C. Spencer was quoted in the State Journal-Register saying: “What employers are looking for (in a university graduate) is not a narrow skill; but a young person with good educational background who can be expected to develop specific skills on the job.” Even before classes started, according to the Journal piece, managers of private businesses and industries in Springfield and heads of departments in state government were being asked to partner with the campus and provide “on-the-job” experiences for students – a novel idea at the time.
Today, over forty years later, college internships are more than a novelty at UIS. Internships have become an important part of the university experience, providing a bridge between classroom learning and the real world and offering students a vital “leg up” in a highly competitive job market. According to Tammy Craig, Director of the UIS Career Development Center: “Internships provide a key way for students to get relevant experience at the same time they have value for employers.” In fact, internships have become an essential component of many employers’ college recruiting programs; a ‘high-touch’ way for them to observe and evaluate prospective employees before making the commitment to hire them.
UIS offers many such opportunities for students and one of the best comes with the partnership that has been formed between the UIS Computer Science program and State Farm. As most Illinois residents know, State Farm is a widely known and highly respected insurance company headquartered in Bloomington, Illinois. The company is a major contributor to the economy of the region, with about 66,000 employees and a high demand for IT professionals. UIS is one of only a small number of campuses in the nation that are “Target Schools” for State Farm’s Systems Department, competitively selected because of the high quality and relevance of our Computer Science program.
I had the opportunity to spend a fascinating day at State Farm not long ago – talking with Vice President Dianne Fleming and other members of the Systems Department’s leadership team, as well as with UIS summer interns and a number of alums who are now State Farm employees. One of those alums is Bob Clary, a manager in the Systems Department who also serves as the UIS Campus Liaison, working closely with the Computer Science Department to recruit new interns and employees and serving as a vital link between the Systems Department and UIS Computer Science faculty.
According to Bob: “The State Farm college internship serves as a continuation of the student’s educational experience.” Each intern is part of a team – working every day alongside seasoned employees who have challenging work assignments to complete. While the experience is a development opportunity for the student, the intern is also making valuable contributions to the department. “This is a good setting,” as Bob says, “for both the intern and State Farm to test-drive to see if this is a good match for each and it often leads to full-time job offers for students.”
One such student is Jamaal Hollins, a senior Computer Science major from Flossmoor, Illinois, who is also serving this year as our campus representative to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. Jamaal has completed two summer internships at State Farm and he tells me that besides learning new technical skills from fellow interns and other team members, he gained valuable experience in “soft skills” like working together to solve challenging problems and learning to settle differences. He must have done very well … at the end of his summer internship a few months ago, Jamaal was offered a position in the Systems Division (which he has accepted) and he will be joining the State Farm team after graduation next May. I have a feeling that President Spencer would have been very proud of Jamaal … and so am I.