Demystifying College Works Painting

Students see College Works Painting as possible scam

By Luke Cooper, Staff Writer

University students created a subreddit thread on April 14 to discuss College Works Painting, renewing the perennial skepticism many students have toward the company.

Reddit threads involving students discussing their experiences with the perceived ambiguity and deceptive actions taken by the company to recruit students can be dated back to 2012.

College Works Painting states that the company provides undergraduate students the opportunity to build their resume and gain marketable skills by teaching them how to manage their very own painting business.

Through the company’s guidance, students hire and train family members, friends and professional painters to paint houses in the summer under their oversight.

The company, headquartered in Irvine, Calif., received the top award in the Materials and Construction category from The American Business Awards in 2014.

University students may know College Works Painting as the company that distributes paper slips at the beginning of lectures, advertising themselves only as a “summer internship program” through which students can make $10,000 or more.

After students fill out information on slips, they’re contacted by one of the company’s student representatives who then invite them to attend a group information session usually held in the Illini Union. The information sessions are just one event within the company’s multi-step hiring process for students.

Matthew Clawson, sophomore in Engineering, said he gave out his contact information to the company in the fall of his freshman year to learn more about what the program entailed.

“I thought it was all kind of sketchy, but I still went for it anyways,” Clawson said.

Clawson said that when contacted, a University student representative had used a pseudonym for the company when initially speaking with him over the phone.

“I forget what the name was, but it wasn’t College Works Painting,” Clawson said. “They contacted me with a name and when I googled it, it got zero results.”

Clawson said that he didn’t know the internship involved painting until he arrived at an information session.

He said the weirdest part of the session was when he and other students were allowed to look at information packets and brochures briefly, but were told they weren’t allowed to leave with any of them.

“If you go to any career fair, you come back with like 30 sheets of paper easily, because everyone is just trying to get their information out there,” Clawson said.

“And to me, it just seemed really sketchy that they didn’t even want me to hold on to the papers.”

Wade Kinney, now a manager for College Works Painting and a junior in LAS, interned under the company during his sophomore year.

Kinney’s initial experiences with the company were almost identical to Clawson’s. Kinney said that he had no idea that the company involved painting until the information session given.

“I thought it was the sketchiest thing ever before I ever did it,” Kinney said.

“I almost didn’t do it because of the company’s reputation online.”

After the information session, Clawson started to research College Works Painting online to learn more about the company, and what experiences people had with it.

“All I could see were posts similar to mine (on Reddit) from a bunch of other students from different schools and other Big Ten schools about the skepticism and bad personal experiences people had with the company,” Clawson said.

Clawson speculates that a pseudonym was given to him in place of College Works Painting to prevent him from researching the company online prior to the information session.

“I think that if they had wanted me to know about their company, they would have given me their real name,” Clawson said. “Because it was so easy for me to dig up all of this dirt just by knowing the name of the company. They were trying to deceive me from the start.”

Kinney decided to get involved with the program regardless and said that it was one of the most rewarding experiences he’s had.

“It’s so unique when you sit down with some random college student who tells you that you have the opportunity to make 10 grand over the summer,” Kinney said.

“Why wouldn’t you be a little skeptical?”

Kinney, who now helps to promote the company to other University students, said that the company uses the name “Summer Internship Program” in place of College Works Painting to prevent a lack of interest.

“It’s sort of like a marketing tool,” Kinney said.

“If we go around saying ‘Hey, we’re College Works Painting,’ the initial thought that people would have would be, “I don’t want to be a painter. I don’t want to do this.’”

Though the company uses “Summer Internship Program,” Clawson said that this wasn’t the pseudonym used in his phone conversation.

Tom Ackmann, Vice President of College Works Painting in Illinois and Engineering alumnus, said he doesn’t know how to avoid the skepticism University students show toward the company: “It’s one of the biggest challenges I face on a day-to-day basis.”

Ackmann said he wants students to give the program a chance instead of focusing on Reddit comments.

“I’m bummed because 99 percent of the information on that page (Reddit threads) comes from people who haven’t actually done this (internship),” Ackmann said. “I’ve never had an intern who hasn’t said it wasn’t the best thing for their future.”

Clawson said that the company’s marketing to students needs to be revised if it wishes to continue business at the University.

“There is absolutely no transparency between the student and the interviewer or company, at least at the initial stages,” Clawson said.

“They should really be honest with students and claim from the get-go what they’re about, rather than trying to deceive them.”

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