student coaching program

At this college, IT staff are former students

In an innovative new program, OSU is hiring its own students from a vendor’s internship program to work on the company’s systems on campus.

OSU-Hyland-studentsThe term “win-win” has been beaten to death in recent years, but it does succinctly convey the idea of mutual benefit. Now, in an innovative internship arrangement with a software company, Ohio State University is trying to go one better, creating a win-win-win partnership to benefit the school’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), Hyland Software, and—most important—the university’s students themselves.

Under the program, OSU students have a chance to intern at Hyland Software and then apply the skills learned there in jobs within the university’s OCIO, which utilizes the company’s OnBase enterprise content-management platform. “In our partnerships with companies like Hyland, we are interested in how we can add value for our students, whether it be internships or scholarships,” said Dave Kieffer, senior director of enterprise applications at OSU. “We are looking for opportunities for students to get involved in the work of the university as well as ways to engage them in the work of our partners.”

The idea for the program arose during contract negotiations with Hyland in 2014. An Ohio-based company that lies two hours from campus, Hyland already hires a lot of OSU interns and Kieffer saw an opportunity to complete the circle. Of the 15 OSU interns at Hyland, three were hired by the OCIO for the fall semester. Two of these filled technical roles with Hyland, while the third occupied a position in general communications.

Although Kieffer’s primary goal is to support OSU students, he is also forthright about the benefits OCIO receives from having student employees with hands-on experience. “One student has been doing very technical work in getting web services and APIs to work between Hyland products and our DocuSign product,” said Kieffer, referring to a cloud system used for electronic signatures. “Her previous knowledge of the Hyland platform was invaluable, and she was able to start right away. With the experience these students gain from their internships, their learning curve is a lot steeper. That’s been a distinct advantage for us.”

By employing OSU students who have already been screened by Hyland, OCIO also dramatically reduces the amount of time it takes to find qualified student employees. “Hyland’s proficiency at recruiting was a huge advantage for us—the company had already narrowed the field to a really good population,” said Kieffer. “The student interns we met were phenomenal. As we move forward, we can use that synergy in looking for people who have great skills and great ambition.”

(Next page: Benefits abound for OSU)

Hyland, too, reaps benefits from the partnerships. For starters, it helps cement the company’s relationship with OSU at a time when vendor competition is fierce. “The program certainly has enhanced the relationship between the two organizations because now there’s another set of common interests,” said Kieffer. “In my discussions with leadership at Hyland, this comes up a lot—and it comes up a lot with leadership at OSU.”

Second, some of these very same interns may return to Hyland as fulltime employees after graduation, bringing a unique perspective from the client side of the equation. “We saw an opportunity for students to be on the backside and the front side of the same product—to see it from a development perspective and then see it from a client perspective,” said Kieffer. “Being able to take a multifaceted view of a piece of technology is a huge advantage that students will bring to the table when they look for jobs after graduation—whether it’s at Hyland or somewhere else.”

Sam Yun, a student who worked as a software development intern at Hyland and now applies his knowledge of work flow at the OSU Student Services Center, feels the experience has definitely given him a leg up. “I’m not exactly sure where I want to end up, but I think working with OnBase both on the source code and on the customer side will help me in the future from an employment aspect.”

Given the initial success with the Hyland partnership, Kieffer is eager to expand the concept to other vendors. Unfortunately, he has achieved little traction to date. “We’ve been pushing these concepts in all of our large relationships, but we’ve not had as much success,” he said. “It’s much more difficult for some of these really large software companies to be agile in the way that Hyland has been.”

While company size likely plays a role in the success of a program like this, location may also be a factor. Hyland, for instance, is located just two hours from the OSU campus. From a student perspective, says Yun, proximity is a definite advantage. “The closer you are to home, the more students you’re going to have to work there,” he said. “Having that proximity opens up the gig.”

From a management standpoint, however, distance needn’t be an issue, according to Kieffer. “It’s more of a cultural thing than because Hyland is an Ohio company,” he said about the reasons behind the success of the internship program. “I think this could work well with a California company if the commitment and desire are there.”

As for the Hyland arrangement, Kieffer would like to formalize what is currently little more than a handshake agreement. “I want to make this program part of the attraction of working both at Hyland and in the OCIO,” he said. “I want to recruit students for the internship program knowing they would be good candidates to come back and work here. That’s important to me.”

Andrew Barbour is a contributing editor with eCampus News.

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