Lost Points offers internships to gain social and entrepreneurial skills

In this weak economy, job offers are hard to come by. Many students arrive senior year without knowing where to apply, whether they have the skills needed to enter the workforce right away or how to go through the job search. Fortunately, one local business made it its mission to help.

Lost Points, a software development consulting business, helps students gain skills in the technology industry while giving back to the community. The company offers internships for students looking to gain social entrepreneurship skills and work on community focused projects.

“We came up with this idea to help address a couple problems in our community,” said Kerris Lee, partner at the firm. “One being student retention: A lot of people come to U of I to be educated and they leave to work somewhere else (outside of Champaign-Urbana). In addition to that, we wanted to give students a chance to not only look for a job but to create one.”

The project is aimed at teaching skills that the University doesn’t emphasize, like behavioral and social interaction in a business, according to Lee. He pointed out that it gives students an opportunity to learn from the best teachers and become great businessmen or computer scientists in a group-oriented setting.

Shiren Mathai, another partner at the firm, emphasized training with a business mindset.

“We were trying to educate them on how to start a business from scratch,” Mathai said. “Most of the students coming in came in cold, without any experience. So there were possibilities for failure, but in order to avoid that, we brought in mentors from the community to give them the strategy needed to make sure they were positioned for success.”

This summer, Lost Points partnered with the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum in downtown Champaign to create a tech exhibit specifically dealing with aspects of mathematics and scale for children ages four to eight.

This interactive exhibit, which held a demonstration Saturday Sept. 22, uses Microsoft Kinect linked to a projector to superimpose an image of the child onto a screen. In this virtual reality, the child can then navigate everything around them without a controller by moving their body. There are three learning modules built for the exhibit: space, the human body and the ocean.

“In all these entities they are able to go through quizzes that would normally be boring on a piece of paper, but have it in an atmosphere to develop (the concepts) further.” Lee said. “So for example, in the ocean scene they see themselves in a submarine and will be asked a question when they see fish swimming … which fish is bigger, dealing with scale.”

The company also teamed up with Nuvixa, a video technology company, to work on the software. In the space scenario, the child travels in a rocket, sees the planets and moons and is tested on their counting and arithmetic skills.

Developing this type of project required the help of students with backgrounds in many different areas. For the business elements of the exhibit, the group had an MBA graduate and an international marketing student. The development team was comprised of four computer scientists, including one in electrical engineering and a statistician. Finally, the company’s design team incorporated the skills of an industrial designer and University graduate in new media, Alyssa Burke.

“Working with Lost Points was a new, different experience,” Burke said. “It was great working with a team full of people that all did different things on the project. I’m a graphic designer, so when you add more people to the equation it was great in learning what happens when you all don’t agree on something.”

Having diverse disciplines come together to work toward a common goal reflects what occurs in real business, Lee added.

The firm plans to offer this internship again this fall, focusing on increasing voter turnout during the Champaign and Urbana elections of February and April next year. The focus will be on developing mobile applications to increase participation in the local community.

_Mohamed can be reached at [email protected]_