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Janet Boston - 4/4/2014
Source: http://www.insideindianabusiness.com/contributors.asp?ID=2842

A recent story reported on Purdue University's announcement of a partnership with Chrysler Group LLC. The pairing consists of seven research projects to enhance Chrysler's manufacturing process. It features distance-education programs for Chrysler's global employees at Purdue, with internship and co-op programs in development for Purdue students at Chrysler facilities in Kokomo and worldwide.

These type of stories bring a smile to our faces at Indiana INTERNnet and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Why? Because it's this kind of grassroots legwork that is strengthening the Hoosier economy and better preparing individuals for the workforce.

The Purdue-Chrysler partnership is just one example as we are seeing more change and innovation in the area of experiential learning. In fact, we had several examples of the changing face of internships at our 8th Annual IMPACT Awards luncheon on February 5.

We look forward to the IMPACT Awards luncheon every year because it's our opportunity to celebrate the significance of internships and spotlight accomplishments. The focus is on interns and how they are working to become the best and brightest in Indiana’s workforce. We received a record number of nominations this year; that fact, in addition to the 60-plus success stories we recognized, is a testament to the importance of internships for students, employers, industries and the state of Indiana.

This year, in particular, was a fantastic reminder that the standard idea of what constitutes an internship is expanding. An increasing number of companies are offering virtual or project-based internships. Individuals outside the typical college-age range are receiving strong career training through internships. Employers and schools are thinking beyond the normal bounds, working together to align curriculum with experiential learning and making connections that lead to jobs for the students.

Group Dekko, the 2013 Employer of the Year (for profit), is a prime example.

Group Dekko partnered with East Noble High School last year to launch "Project Explore" - an internship program designed to expose high school students to the manufacturing sector and provide them with industry contacts who will mentor them through school and beyond. The program will contain three levels: an internship for students between 10th and 11th grades, an additional internship for students between 11th and 12th grades and a possible ICE (Interdisciplinary Cooperative Education) internship during the senior year.

"Northeast Indiana is filled with advanced manufacturing organizations," explains Justin Clupper, program manager for the Graduate Retention Program at Greater Fort Wayne Inc. "In addition to the issue of 'brain drain,' employers have also seen a growing gap in the middle-skill set. Group Dekko has looked ahead and understands that this gap is only going to grow if certain practices aren’t put in place today."

The summer of 2013 began for Project Explore interns at Group Dekko with on-boarding curriculum that included group activities and overviews of the company. A two-week rotational period followed, allowing students to experience five departments. After that, students selected two departments that interested them most, and they spent two weeks with each of those in a paid internship position.

As a culmination of their work, the students came together and used the skills they developed to create a product that was functional and could be sold to support a charity. The students designed and manufactured a tablet device stand that included a space for the charging cable (I’ll need to snag one of those!). They organized a luncheon for family, friends, school administrators and community leaders to share what they learned from the experience and provide an opportunity for people to purchase their product, with proceeds going to Riley Children's Hospital.

Seven students were selected to participate in the pilot year in the first round. Each of these students is hoping to complete the second round of the program next summer.

We couldn't be more pleased with the growing awareness and innovation in experiential learning, and we are proud to play a role. If your company is looking to start an internship program, or assistance with improving your existing initiative, Indiana INTERNnet exists to help.

To register for our free service, visit www.IndianaINTERN.net or call (317) 264-6862.