In December 2019, Jacey McLaughlin found herself at a crossroads in her education: should she continue to pursue her fashion marketing degree? Classroom instruction had given her a firm knowledge base, but McLaughlin needed to somehow bring it to life to understand what she wanted for her career path. An internship, suggested by her advisor, offered the perfect solution.
By using her university’s robust network of resources, McLaughlin landed a marketing internship at Matilda Jane Clothing a month later. The move proved beneficial for everyone. At the end of her four-month program, McLaughlin’s supervisor praised her strategic contributions and called her an excellent team player. In the process, McLaughlin discovered a new passion for marketing and has learned to believe in herself in a real-world setting. She gives credit to her supervisor.
“I was amazed at how much she cared about my success and my internship,” says McLaughlin. “Any door I wanted to have open, she opened it for me.”
This is precisely the kind of experience Sonya Snellenberger-Holm wants to replicate throughout the region. As director of talent initiatives at the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, she sees internships as a key vehicle to attract, develop and retain the talent needed to build the region’s workforce. Not only can internships help employers move projects forward and bring fresh perspectives into an organization, but they also help fill the region’s talent pipeline. By the time an intern has completed his or her education, s/he has also acquired the practical skills necessary to succeed.
“There’s so much data out there about how important work-based learning experiences are,” says Snellenberger-Holm. “They have a big impact on full-time employment.”
The outdated perception of interns doing so-called grunt work no longer applies, according to Snellenberger-Holm. She spends her time working with employers to create high quality internship programs, as defined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and in partnership with state organizations like Indiana INTERNnet operated through the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Key elements include a specific job description, a formal recruiting process, intentional professional development and a project plan with a defined scope of work.
Though the process is not difficult, it does require some planning by the employer. Snellenberger-Holm recommends a guidebook published by Indiana INTERNnet to help people step through the process. Most of the work is done up front, so subsequent years flow much more smoothly.
“Those who have made this transition have had a lot more productivity come out of their interns,” says Snellenberger-Holm. “We’re making sure interns aren’t just making coffee and copies anymore. They’re doing real work, ultimately preparing for their future careers.”
Employers represent only one part of a successful program. To truly maximize its impact, employers and educational institutions must work together to identify needs, prepare students educationally, and bring everyone together. Cindy Verduce, director of Indiana Tech’s Career Center and Regional Career Services, says McLaughlin’s internship perfectly illustrates this kind of cooperation.
“Jacey’s story is a really good one,” says Verduce, referring to McLaughlin. “She’s a really great student to begin with, and that whole internship came about because of the relationship Indiana Tech has with Matilda Jane. The company is represented on our advisory board, and we have two alumni who work there. They give us information so we can prepare students, and students work on those skills. It’s a great symbiotic relationship.”
Verduce describes the interaction among employers, educational institutions and the community as an ecosystem, with each part affecting the others. In fact, her work with Indiana Tech is intertwined with that of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership; Verduce serves as co-chair for the Regional Partnership’s Vision 2030 Internship Committee.
“We are really unique here in this region,” says Verduce. “Most parts of the state and the country do not collaborate at the level we do. Our goal is to create an internship ecosystem in northeast Indiana.”
Verduce and Snellenberger-Holm work often with Nichole Rouached, Manager of Communications and Projects for Orthoworx, a not-for-profit organization serving the region’s orthopedic employers. Rouached actively promotes careers in orthopedics to college students, regardless of major, and internships play a huge role in that effort.
“There’s a job for every discipline, not just engineers or biomedical majors,” says Rouached. “With our internships, we’re working on making sure they’re getting a meaningful experience, not just working on a task. We’re skilling them up, while also letting them know how great it is to live in this area.”
As part of Rouached’s efforts, Orthoworx and the Regional Partnership will work together on Professional Development Summer Series for Interns program this year. While the program has been traditionally offered in person, recent changes because of the global pandemic have necessitated a transition to virtual sessions. Ultimately, this may increase participation by easing the logistics of physical attendance.
All these efforts – and many more like them – are helping build northeast Indiana’s talent base to make the region more attractive to talent and employers alike. Gone are the days of making coffee and copies; instead, interns are being given real work and held accountable for meaningful results. As an example, Verduce cites an engineering intern who improved a key process by a full 26 minutes.
Internship possibilities are endless, and they go beyond office jobs. Rouached notes that one town employed an intern to tend its flowers as part of an effort to cultivate landscaping workers. Opportunities abound in manufacturing and the trades, as well.
Simply put, says Rouached, “Internships are an opportunity to train future talent.”
The Regional Partnership offers resources, connections, and best practices for any organization interested in building its own program, even in a pandemic-driven, more virtual environment. A call to Snellenberger-Holm can help an interested employer know where to start, and she stands ready to assist.
Says Snellenberger-Holm: “The success of our regional program is deeply personal to me.”
Rouached, Verduce, and Snellenberger-Holm passionately believe in the value of a high-quality internship to the student, the company, and the community.
“I wish employers knew that it’s easier than they think,” says Verduce. “If they just get one intern, I think they’ll see the benefit of it.”
Address: 200 E. Main St., Suite 910 Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802
Phone: (260) 469-3469
Products & Services: The mission of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership is to build, market, and sell Northeast Indiana to increase business investment. It strives to build a globally competitive region and measures success based on achieving these three goals by 2030: Increasing per capita personal income annually against the national average Increasing the population of Northeast Indiana to 1 million residents Increasing postsecondary educational attainment to more than 60 percent