Internships at Research Park companies offer University of Illinois students the opportunity to gain hands-on professional experience while giving employers the chance to engage with an unmatched talent pool.
By employing student interns year-round, Research Park provides an affordable, high-value workforce with significant potential for full-time recruitment after graduation. And the students benefit by learning workplace culture and adapting classroom learning into real-world projects.
For many companies, the ultimate goal is to transition a least a portion of its student intern workforce to full-time employees. And that happens with increasing frequency at Research Park.
As opposed to a traditional summer internship experience, the Research Park’s year-round internship model facilitates a very different kind of employer-intern relationship. The longer a student stays with a company, the more opportunity the company has to evaluate the student – and vice versa.
“Some managers say that they only want to hire interns for full-time positions from Research Park,” says a representative from Caterpillar, which laid the foundation for the year-round student workforce model back in the late ‘90s.
From Student Intern to Full-Time Professional: A Journey
Victoria Wilson graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s degree in Atmospheric Sciences, as well as a full-time job offer from AXIS Capital through Research Park.
Wilson began working with AXIS Capital at Research Park in May 2020, and by January 2021 she was able to transition from a part-time CAT Modeling intern to a full-time CAT Modeling Analyst.
“I have really enjoyed my time at AXIS Research Center thus far. This internship has been all that I could’ve asked for and more. I’ve developed a major interest in the reinsurance industry and the projects we tackle,” wrote Wilson.
AXIS Capital is among the many corporate innovation centers that focus on transitioning interns into full-time hires. Research Park site directors describe their internship programs as an “extended interview process” and a major part of the value proposition of having a center on the Urbana-Champaign campus.
Xu Zhang recently accepted a full-time position as a Software Engineer with Motorola Solutions Innovation Center. Zhang will graduate this spring with his master’s degree in Geographic Information Sciences, and following graduation, he will transition from his former position of Software Engineer Intern to his new full-time position as a Software Engineer with Motorola Solutions at Research Park.
“I am happy and honored to work with so many friendly and talented people. I [learned] a lot from them, not only programming skills but also the way they treat work and life. Being an intern [at] Motorola Solutions is cool, we did important tasks and we knew exactly how … beneficial the product would be to the company and community” says Zhang.
Building Relationships and Experience With the Future in Mind
The Research Park team focuses on providing its tenants customized events and student engagement opportunities, helping its innovation centers break through the clutter of 5,000+ recruiters on campus annually. This elevates opportunities to build relationships and provides mutually beneficial networking opportunities for student interns and employers.
Companies hire a diverse population of highly skilled student interns, often building interdisciplinary teams in nimble fashion. Internship positions at Research Park attract significant interest from a deep talent pool.
- Procter & Gamble’s Smart Lab received 600+ student applicants for 14 internship positions within its first six months of operation.
- The State Farm Research and Development Center received 2,500+ internship applications for 60 internship positions in the summer of 2020.
- When the Ameren Innovation Center posted its first internship five years ago, it yielded <25 applicants. “Today we usually eclipse 300 applicants on each posting.”
Mark Lincoln, a Gies College of Business alumnus, was able to make the transition from intern to full-time employee with State Farm. Lincoln started off as a Strategic Resources Intern at the State Farm Research and Development Center before eventually being offered and accepting a Financial Operations position post-graduation.
“[State Farm’s] presence in Research Park allowed us to work with (Lincoln) for several semesters and he will start his full-time gig with years of experience. Real experience and real connections,” wrote Adam Johnson, Sr. Finance Analyst at State Farm.
Graybar Innovation Lab transitioned two former Innovation Lab interns into full-time Graybar employees: Shirley Saunders, a UIUC grad with an M.S. in Computer Science (Data Science), and Anish Gupta, a UIUC grad with an M.S. in Information Management.
“These talented and enthusiastic individuals will help move Graybar forward as we shape the future of distribution,” site director Todd Hart wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “Shirley/Anish, our future is a little bit brighter with you onboard!”