In Search of the Perfect Internship

Submitted by Nina M. Riccio on November 27, 2012

Dr. Wook-Sung Yoo, associate professor of software engineering

In his many years teaching and working in industry, Dr. Wook-Sung Yoo, associate professor of software engineering in Fairfield’s School of Engineering, has developed some ideas about students and their place in business, and how universities can better prepare them to be successful in the workplace.

“In academia, we care about how much our students learn,” he explains. “In industry, they care about how useful students are to create something they can sell to make profit.”

It sounds obvious, but it’s a difference that can have an impact on a student’s success when he or she is placed in an internship. “I’ve seen students who are smart, with very good grades academically, but end up with a poor evaluation from their managers,” he says. “‘Why did this student do so poorly?’ I would ask the manager. So many times, it is a problem of communication, or poor teamwork skills, or a lack of soft skills; it adds up to lost productivity. Those skills are not well taught and measured in the classroom.“

Several years ago, Dr. Yoo was doing work with General Electric and watched several students struggle through internships there. “They wanted a JAVA programmer, and we provided them a technically very strong, “A” student who had a lot of experience with JAVA. After some time I asked the manager how the student was doing, and I could tell from the answer he wasn’t that happy.” Digging to the bottom of the problem, Dr. Yoo found out that the manager had given a directive to students that would not work; the student realized this while working on the project, but didn’t feel the right to challenge the authority. “When the student presented the work, the manager noted that it didn’t work. And the student said, ‘I know, but that’s what you told me to do!’ “

“Engineering students generally work alone or in small groups at the class,” Dr. Yoo added. “They don’t learn much about leadership or about how to influence others.”

To help smooth the transition from academia to industry, Dr. Yoo came up with a program he calls GRIP, for Graduate Research Internship Program. GRIP is a faculty mentored internship program. Professors are involved in recruiting, mentoring, and evaluating interns. They meet the students on a weekly basis to review project progress, provide technical and non-technical support in order to help steer students in the right direction and forestall problems as they come up, and speak with managers regularly. In return, the professors are given a course release or paid a stipend by the company providing the internships. Once the internship concludes, managers fill out an evaluation, which so far has proven the value of the GRIP program.

Shweta Jadhav ’13 is now in Fairfield’s MBA program, but several years ago she was studying software and information systems. She had first hand experience with GRIP in her GE internship, where she was developing code dealing with remote monitoring, diagnosis, and test data management in their transportation systems. “Sometimes, the company’s requirements were not clear and their documentation was difficult to understand,” she recalls. “Their managers and engineers don’t have a lot of time for interns, so it was very, very helpful to have a professor to discuss difficulties with.” There were five interns in the GRIP program with her, she adds, and each met with Dr. Yoo weekly to present their projects and get feedback.

“It’s a win-win,” Dr. Yoo concluded “The company gets the best students, because the professor knows who can best fit to the position and provides intimate one-to-one mentorship. The students are financially supported while gaining great experience. Students are mostly offered a full-time job when the internship ends. Faculty keep their skills up-to-date by staying involved with industry. I believe GRIP is an innovative model of close industry-academy collaboration for industry to seriously consider.”

 

 

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