Research Park provides students with real-world experience

Located on the southwest side of campus, the University of Illinois Research Park goes unknown to many University students.

“I never quite realized the opportunities and resources that were available here,” Tyler Deitz, senior in Business and development specialist for startup company Cazoodle said. “You are given the opportunity to act like an adult and take on new opportunities that you would expect to learn in the real world.”

The Research Park, which opened in 2001 and includes 12 buildings, provides an environment where technology-based businesses can work with University faculty and students for collaborative research and easy access to University services and is now home to 80 companies and growing, employing over 1,400 people. Approximately 40 of those companies are employing students this summer, according to Laura Frerichs, associate director of Research Park and Incubation Facilities.

EnterpriseWorks and State Farm Research & Development Center employ some of the most student workers, with 55 students working at EnterpriseWorks this summer for companies, including 20 working for student startup businesses, Frerichs said.

“We offer the opportunities for people to have startup companies, where firms can develop technologies and then ‘graduate’ from incubation and the Research Park,” Frerichs said.

The University offers resources for companies to develop in the research park and exposes students to a real workplace, Frerichs said.

Deitz works with Cazoodle to develop large-scale information integration technologies with search engines specific for people’s needs, like apartment or vacation rentals.

“I am able to experience working with a real business that is just beginning to see how far they can make it,” Deitz said.

Unlike EnterpriseWorks, which focuses on startup companies, State Farm employs students more for research-oriented purposes, with 78 full-time summer interns in Champaign and another six at State Farm Corporate Headquarters in Bloomington, said State Farm Research and Development Center Oversight Manager John Quarton.

These interns are from a variety of majors, ranging from actuarial science, computer science and engineering to mathematics to communications and some finance, accounting and marketing.

“We enjoy having students around because they offer a different type of knowledge,” Quarton said. “We like to place emphasis on what the students recommend.”

The interns work on researching and developing different projects. All interns work on a primary project for corporate headquarters, and most work on smaller projects once a week for a program called innovationREADY, where they experiment with multi-disciplinary and team-based projects. This program is usually only done in the summer, but Quarton said they are looking to expand it for the school year, when students can still work but only as part-time employees.

Student projects can sometimes be sent to corporate headquarters and possibly used in production, like the idea for an iPhone application developed last summer.

“You are able to work with experts and have access to the resources and advice that they have,” said Laura Gallant, senior in LAS and communications intern.

Other companies employing many student interns in the Research Park include Caterpillar, Autonomic Materials Inc. and Chromatin, Frerichs said.

“We try to have continual employment and a flexible staffing model to give individuals and students different opportunities,” Frerichs said.