On-campus internships provide experience without the commute

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Caitlin Severson, WSC Support Services employee, enjoys the flexibility and learning that working on campus has given her. (Photo by Sarah Hill.)
Caitlin Severson, WSC Support Services employee, enjoys the flexibility and learning that working on campus has given her. (Photo by Sarah Hill.)

Students at BYU enrolled in a business management course called the On-Campus Experiential Project can act as interns and student consultants for real-world companies without leaving campus.

The pilot for the program began in Fall 2008 with five projects and 24 students and has seen major growth since. The Winter 2015 course had 130 projects and 600 students enrolled.

There is a main section that covers a broad spectrum of problems, or specialized sections that deal with specific problems such as finances, HR and strategy, nonprofits, social innovation, commercial real estate and a new section coming in Fall 2015 designed for those interested in localization and translation.

The professionals who lead each section have the resources and experience to ensure a safety net for students’ success. Kim Smith, who leads the finance section, has 25 years of experience with Goldman Sachs. Todd Manwaring, an associate teaching professor at the Ballard Institute for Self-Reliance, leads the nonprofit and social innovation sections. Roger McCarty, the director of experiential learning, has more than 30 years of experience with Dow Chemical.

McCarty believes on-campus internships are one of the most powerful ways students can start their preparations for their future careers and can solve the woes a typical internship provides.

“You should have three to five professional work experiences before you graduate, but how do you do that when 75,000 students are competing for 1,000–2,000 jobs? You have to leave the valley every time you want to have a work experience. You just can’t do that,” McCarty said. “Instead of going to the site of a company outside the valley, having to break your lease and move your spouse and kids or having to do all that other stuff, you can just stay here and work for a company based elsewhere.”

Students can enroll in a section of the three-credit, repeatable course as many times as they want. Over the last five years, the On-Campus Experiential Project has never turned down a student for the main section. McCarty said the program is valuable because students get to try out their career, build a network, find out what they like, and focus on doing something that’s going to prepare them for life.

The on-campus internships are open to all majors. For the main section, Bus M 494R-001, no one is turned away. In fact, McCarty said one of the problems is getting enough students to join the program. He said he has to turn down 30 companies every semester because there aren’t enough students enrolled.

“Even with over 600 students doing it, I still turn down projects every semester. If I needed more projects, I could come up with over 1,000 projects for students next semester if I needed it,” McCarty said. “I’ve got places I can go if I need projects; I’m not concerned about that. I just need the attention of the students to sign up.”

McCarty said companies have called him to ask what has made BYU students more competitive than in previous years. After hearing about the program that helped transform the students, companies often ask if they can sponsor a project.

Chris Layton has participated in three on-campus internships with Walmart, Cisco and General Mills. He said he believes the on-campus internship program is one of the most valuable secrets at BYU because of the competitive advantage it provides on a student’s resume.

“I say they are a ‘secret’ because many students don’t know about them and others think they are just meant for business students, which is completely false,” Layton said. “Another ‘secret’ is that on-campus internships are only the time and effort equivalent of a three-credit course, so they won’t eat up a whole semester like a regular internship might.”

Layton said he was intimidated before he started his internships, but learned he could use the resources BYU offers to his advantage. In one of six required lectures he attended for the on-campus internship class, he learned about the research resources available at the HBLL. “We ended up putting a report together for General Mills that would have cost them $20,000 just to use the research that we were able to read for free,” he said.

He said both his confidence and resume have been boosted from the on-campus internship program, and a main point of discussion in the interview process for the job he landed with The Nielsen Company was the internship experiences. “It’s hard to find another course at BYU that could provide the same level of involved experience as what an on-campus internship offers,” Layton said.

Layton also gave props to McCarty and his team, who coordinate the behind-the-scenes details each semester to make sure hundreds of students are on a project they desire to be a part of and are succeeding in it. In order to make this happen, students register at oci.byu.edu, submit their resumes and rank more than 100 projects on a scale of one to five based on their interest. They are then assigned a project with three to five other people based on their rankings.

One BYU on-campus internship team includes Meredith Webb, Jacob Mortensen, Noah Davis and Viviana Rojas, led by Benjamin Schmidt.

Webb, an economics major from Fresno, said she enjoys working on a project where you can be an entrepreneur for a “real company.” The team is working with BlueHost, a web host company.

Schmidt is the BlueHost education account manager and acts as a liaison between the company and the students. Schmidt said he enjoys the relationships he gets to build with the teammates and the company.

BlueHost is a 700-person business started in Provo in 2003 by BYU students,” Schmidt said. “It was even named after BYU, because the creators were such big fans. It’s the biggest data user in Utah, with customers in more than 100 countries. Two million host with BlueHost.”

Jacob Mortensen is a BYU student from Syracuse, Utah, studying information systems. Mortensen said BlueHost offers 24/7 access to students who need help with the programming or setup. He said he and his team met with the BlueHost CEO, COO and director of customer experience to present ideas for the company.

“This is the pinnacle of learning at BYU,” he said. “Other organizations have fake reports or presentations, but this is a real situation with real suggestions.”
Unlike other courses, on-campus internships don’t have homework assignments or exams. The final grade is decided by a combination of logged hours, effort made to help the team succeed and the company’s feedback.
Webb said this on-campus internship has helped her step outside herself. “I can work with a team. I value a second, third and fourth opinion and the team keeps you in check.”
BlueHost offers custom website hosting for those interested in boosting their brands. Mortensen said some people want a custom jewelry website, someone else had an RM blog they made, and another used BlueHost for a personal portfolio.
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