Inspiring Success

A blog from Creating IT Futures

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September 21, 2015

Unique internship model allows employers to offer students useful work experiences

By Gretchen Koch

Editor’s note: In order for high-school students to embark upon IT careers after graduation, they need internships to gain the real-life work experience employers seek when hiring. Successful internships offer students four Ps: A project that is valued and challenging; a place in which to work; personnel who care about and supervise the student; and payment, preferably money, for the work students do.

Traditionally, companies have established internships so the four Ps take place under the same roof. In a series of blog posts, the Creating IT Futures Foundation talks with companies thinking beyond the traditional internship model to create new learning opportunities for students.

InternProgram_blogThis summer in Chicago, Cisco offered students attending Michelle Clark Academic Preparatory High School work experience that developed a unique model of internships. In Cisco’s case, since all employees are required to be at least 18 years of age, the rising senior interns were hired by their high school and then worked with Cisco on valued business projects.

Jerry Rocco, Cisco’s account manager for the City of Chicago and Cook County, had the opportunity — he would say privilege — to work with students this summer on two very different projects.

The first project required that students undergo several weeks of classroom education to become certified trainers for Cisco technologies. Worldwide, Cisco is the number-one manufacturer of business phone systems, Rocco said, so the company has a vested interest in ensuring that customers understand how to fully apply technology to their own businesses.

Once the students were certified and had practiced training Cisco employees, Cisco deployed the students to train executives and their support teams at Bank of America, who owns 400,000 Cisco phones.

“The students covered everything — phones, Webex online conferencing, integrating with smart phones and iPads,” Rocco said. “The folks at Bank of America were very complimentary of the students and really appreciated getting the training. It added value for their own business, and they appreciated that we were working with students.”

The second project involved building and operating a $60,000 iRobot Ava® 500 video collaboration robot, purchased by Cisco. The robot has a Cisco high-definition telepresence unit, allowing the robot to connect with any video unit anywhere in the world. Once built, the robot was deployed at the Museum of Science + Industry, will allow students from across the United States to experience museums in a new and different way.

“We (the interns and I) came up with great ideas for virtual field trips that students can take,” Rocco said. “The interns learned to operate the robot, which is much more complex than you’d think.”

In addition to learning the hard technical skills that came with understanding Cisco’s business tools and how to operate a virtual robot, the students learned important professional skills, too, Rocco said.

“This was probably the first time in their lives that they had a job that required them to go to multiple locations, all at different start times,” he said. “There’s a lot of time management involved there—figuring out where a place is, and how to get transportation to get there on time. They really moved around a lot and they managed that quite well.”

Rocco was also impressed to see how well the students honed their presentation skills — standing in front of a roomful of professionals with years of experience. The students didn’t just impart factual information, he said; they had to learn the nuances of engaging an audience and maintaining their interest, such as acknowledging someone who arrived late to make him or her feel welcome, but not disrupting the flow.

“I’m telling you, I give them credit for doing that, because public speaking is the number one fear for working adults,” he said. “And they were awesome at public speaking. I felt so proud when I watched an intern walk up to the chief information officer at the Museum of Science + Industry and shake hands and say, ‘Hi, I’m a Cisco intern and I’m here to help you with your robot.’”

Rocco doesn’t know whether Cisco will repeat the internship experience next summer — truth be told, he said, it required significant company resources in terms of time, money and employees. But he has no doubt that the interns benefitted from their summer jobs. “I would do it again, in a heartbeat,” he said.

/developing-programs/early-college-stem-schools">Click here to learn more about the Creating IT Futures Foundation and its involvement with internships.