Experience pays off: Internships help students, businesses

2014-07-31T10:00:00Z Experience pays off: Internships help students, businessesPat Shaver pshaver@pantagraph.com pantagraph.com
July 31, 2014 10:00 am  • 

BLOOMINGTON — Sarah Bergman described herself as a deer in the headlights when she began her summer internship at State Farm 12 weeks ago.

Bergman, a senior in political science at Illinois Wesleyan University, was a human resources intern at the Bloomington insurance company and also worked on projects for the YWCA of McLean County.

As college students return to school, Twin City businesses are also preparing to lose their extra hands. For college students, an internship can mean valuable experience in a chosen career field while employers benefit from fresh ideas and first-hand experience with a group of people that could be future employees. 

“I was put into so many situations where I wasn't comfortable,” Bergman said to about 70 State Farm colleagues during a presentation Wednesday. "But I became more confident in asking for help, more comfortable trying new things and confident making decisions."

The work can also be a stepping stone to a permanent job after graduation. Interns at Wilber, an insurance claims provider in Normal, earn $10 an hour and Joe Palumbo, chief claims officer and director of business development, said all of its interns have found permanent jobs in the industry.  

“Right now it is tough for kids to get jobs but if they can come in and put in a year and a half of work and put it on their resume, they end up with really good jobs,” he said. 

Wilber, which has 100 employees in Normal, finds many of its interns from the Katie School of Insurance and Financial Services at Illinois State University. The company has about six interns each semester and two in the summer.

Palumbo has a stack of intern applications and usually keeps in contact with a few potential candidates so there isn't much lag time between interns.

Meanwhile, at Leighton Legal Group, a Bloomington law firm, the interns almost outnumber the staff members.

Paralegal Dillon Smith said the office has two interns and three staff members.

“We really use the interns as staff that we depend on. They are very valuable to us,” Smith said. Interns there set up appointments, talk with clients, draft documents and help with marketing.

An internship there has helped Luke Mueller, a senior in history at IWU, decide that he would rather get his doctorate in history than go to law school.

“I realized I have a huge passion for history. I really like law, but I'm going to go where my passion is,” said Mueller, who is paid for his time at Leighton. “But I've learned a lot about how to write legally and how to interact with clients.”

The largest bunch of interns in the area are the 200 or so based at State Farm's headquarters in Bloomington.

Those include students from a unique 12-week program with IWU. Each student in the program is placed in a department at State Farm and works there three days a week. The other two days they also work at a nonprofit.

The partnership started eight years ago and this year included 10 IWU students. Each student is paid hourly for their work at State Farm and the nonprofit.

Christine Peterson, an IWU sophomore in mathematics and Hispanic studies, was a human resources recruiting intern at State Farm and also competed projects for the Western Avenue Community Center.

“I got to sit in on a job interview and hear the person get a job offer 15 minutes later,” Peterson said.

Brittany Brady, an IWU senior in environmental studies, focused on agency programs and marketing during her State Farm internship. One of the biggest lessons she learned was that taking risks is important in a successful career.

“What we do in the few days we're here really makes the difference in a great summer internship,” Brady said. “In reality, if I didn't take any risks this summer I wouldn't have anything to show."

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