Interns have much to gain at Research Park

Creating life-saving smartphone applications, structural analyses of engines and agricultural farm models are all in a day’s work for the motivated student interns at Research Park.

The University’s Research Park is a community of about 90 technology-based businesses that work with faculty and student interns to collaborate on research projects. Internships at Research Park are typically yearlong opportunities that require students to work 10 to 15 hours per week during the semester and full-time hours in the summer. Graduate student Anna Oldani was an interns this summer.

“We do real work that the company actually uses in their products,” Oldani said. “If you mess up, you are held accountable for it.”

Oldani said the benefits of having an internship through Research Park include schedule flexibility, payment and work experience. She was recently honored at an annual intern recognition event for her contributions to the Caterpillar Inc. design group.

Another intern, graduate student Daniel Herber, developed farm models for Deere & Company, also known as John Deere. His models were recognized as best tech innovation in Research Park at the recognition event.

Interns with Deere & Co. work in various areas of expertise, including engineering, library sciences and robotics departments.

Students in each department get experience that is similar to that of full-time positions.

“It felt kind of like you were in an industry experience right away with lots of people who have already done a lot of things in the industry and have lots of experience,” Herber said.

Herber said he enjoyed the laid-back feel of his internship with Deere & Co.

“The experience here is kind of isolated from the headquarters of some of these companies,” he said. “It’s a little more relaxed, and that, to me, is more fun.”

Intern Jibo He conducted research on insurance auto quotes as an intern for State Farm through Research Park. He said he enjoyed that the internship was customizable.

“They give a lot of freedom,” he said. “You can propose your research work and do whatever you want.”

He stressed the importance of persistence when seeking an internship at Research Park. He applied to be a State Farm intern twice before he was offered a position in May 2011. State Farm reviewed over 200 applications that year for 80 intern positions.

At the end of the summer, He was named the most valuable graduate in Research Park for coding a life-saving insurance application available for iPhone and Android phones.

“I think it is one of the best memories that occurred to me in Champaign,” He said. “It’s a kind of recognition for my hard work.”

For most students, more important than any award is the real-world experience.

“It’s a different kind of work,” Oldani said. “You feel really empowered that you’re doing something real and not just a homework problem.”