Interns for Indiana program positions students for top jobs amid tough economy

April 28, 2010

Jenna Wampler has worked 15 hours a week during the spring semester for DelMar IT, a custom software developer in West Lafayette, Ind., through Purdue's Interns for Indiana program, helping develop marketing pricing models and assisting with the launch of a statistics software program targeted for high school basketball coaches, scouts and others. (Purdue University photo/ Andrew Hancock)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – If the fundamental economics of supply and demand are any guide, Purdue University's Interns for Indiana program continues to be a resounding success story — recession or no recession.

Interns for Indiana (IfI), which was launched in 2004 with financial support from the Lilly Endowment Inc., pairs Purdue students with Indiana high-tech startup companies in an effort to provide undergraduates with challenging, career-building work in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment. The program also seeks innovative ways to retain college graduates in Indiana.

Interest in the program led by the Discovery Learning Research Center literally has been off the charts, particularly for students looking to position themselves for quality jobs once they graduate. Seventy-eight students, for example, applied for the eight internships at the West Lafayette campus for summer 2009.

Driving demand is the Discovery Park program's success.

Through Interns for Indiana, 414 Purdue students have provided 170,000 hours of labor for 145 Indiana companies in just five years. About 60 percent of the participants have remained in Indiana after graduation. Nine students have even started their own Indiana companies.

"Interns for Indiana is a great program for our students to personally experience the continuum of Purdue's 'Discovery with Delivery' strategy of having a positive impact on Indiana's economy," says Amy Childress, project coordinator for Student and International Programs for the Discovery Learning Research Center. "Students gain a holistic view of what it's like to work for a startup company. And it's very competitive -- we average 10 applicants per intern slot."

Students receive an academic credit and a $500 scholarship each semester of their part-time placement. During the summer, students intern full time and participate in an eight-week brown bag luncheon for a $4,500 stipend. Childress said applications are now being accepted for the fall-semester internship slots.

Jenna Wampler will graduate in May with a selling and sales management degree from the College of Consumer and Family Sciences. The Greenwood, Ind., senior has worked 150 hours for DelMar IT at the Purdue Research Park through the Interns for Indiana program. She has been helping develop marketing strategies and product-pricing models for the Indiana custom software development company.

"I have really enjoyed the entrepreneurial environment -- that's what I was looking for," says Wampler, who has job offers from GE Healthcare and MED Institute when she graduates. "With just three employees at DelMar IT, it's really hands-on. It's the real world, and I feel I'm making a significant contribution to the company."

Childress says scheduling is flexible to accommodate student class schedules. International students and students of all majors are encouraged to participate. Requirements for students and participating companies are as follows:

— Student requirements: To qualify for Interns for Indiana, participants must be an undergraduate student at the West Lafayette, Calumet, North Central or Fort Wayne campuses in a full-time, degree-seeking program and have a junior standing or greater with minimum 2.8 GPA.

— Company requirements: To utilize IFI students, the company must be a for-profit organization in Indiana operating as a high-tech startup with the potential to develop positions of interest for Purdue graduates. The company also must have work assignments that are challenging to the student and related to his or her interests, education and experience.

"Our interns have helped us to hire and train a sales staff, develop and launch new versions of our software, as well as build our customer service resources," says employer participant Laron Walker of Fabulous Sites LLC in Lafayette. "They have also allowed us to bring more of our projects to market and take on a larger project load."

Wanda Akbar of participant Maple Leaf Farms in Milford, Ind., said, "The interns have helped in research we could otherwise not have performed. One intern developed a protocol that will help us evaluate our vaccination program, possibly saving us thousands of dollars annually."

Recognizing the limited financial resources of most startup companies, especially during a tough economy, Childress say the program attempts to keep company costs for skilled interns as low as possible. A key reason for creating the program five years ago was the "brain drain" issue facing the state, in which Indiana's talented college graduates leave in search of high-paying, high-tech jobs in large metropolitan cities, particularly on the East and West coasts.

"Our mission is threefold: offer students professional training through experiential learning, introduce students to a myriad of occupational opportunities across the state, and foster economic growth of local businesses through increased access to skilled labor," she says.

But it doesn't stop there. The program boosts the quality of Indiana's work force by providing experiences that encourage top-quality Purdue students to seek in-state employment after graduation, while driving economic development and job creation by supporting high-tech startup companies.

Further, Interns for Indiana has grown into a flagship program for the Discovery Learning Research Center, which recently moved into the new $25 million Hall for Discovery and Learning Research in Discovery Park.

"The experience has been fantastic. I learned a lot through networking with different people throughout the state," says Colleen Coyle, a recent Purdue graduate in Spanish and communications. "I have utilized my writing and communication skills and I have also gained the ability to market a product that has the potential to greatly impact the state."

Writer:   Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, pfiorini@purdue.edu

Sources:   Amy Childress, 765-496-3590, childres@purdue.edu

                    Jenna Wampler, 765-714-6410, jmwample@purdue.edu