BY Jan Powers
Networking is broadly defined as “cultivating people who can be helpful to one professionally, especially in finding employment or moving to a higher position.”
Through the Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) on campus, networking is taken to a new level with students seeking internships to help them learn more about their field of study and build connections with potential employers.
Faye Finnegan (’78), academic internship coordinator, noted that internships are one of several ways students can enhance their classroom learning with out-of-classroom experiences. “Many students pass through our doors in search of ways to make themselves more marketable, to make themselves stand out in the job searching process. We help with a variety of things and teaching them to network is one important skill they learn here.”
Using personal contacts, referrals through professors and an extensive alumni database, students can tap into a web of professionals who are willing and excited to help them make their way into the workforce. “Students learn just how important their professors are because the faculty truly wants them to connect with businesses and industries where the students will fit well. Also, alumni are so willing to assist students. We are so grateful for that resource here on our campus,” Finnegan said.
The feedback Finnegan receives from employers after students have completed their internships is strong and positive. “Employers tell me that our students are better prepared than many young people and have a strong work ethic that helps them get ahead and stand out.”
While internships are not a requirement for all majors for graduation, many students see them as an opportunity to set themselves apart from other applicants. Meet five Loras graduates who have been connected to the internship program and are now paying it forward.
Kim Miller (’97), a computer science major from Dubuque, was attending classes and working her way through school. She landed a job at CartêGraph Systems in Dubuque and has been there nearly 10 years serving as a software engineering manager.
She and other managers at CartêGraph look for students who want to be involved in internships. “We look for certain characteristics in students, like being able to work in pairs or teams, being collaborators and being confident. Obviously we are looking for a certain skill set but the other characteristics are just as important. In our culture we need interns and employees who embrace the paired working environment. We find that Loras interns are well-prepared for this atmosphere. Because of their academic exposure and the activities they can participate in on campus, they come to us with knowledge and confidence. Plus, they have a good work ethic and are detail-oriented people. That certainly helps them succeed in their internships and gets them noticed when it is time to offer full-time employment,” Miller said.
Two men who got themselves noticed through their internships at CartêGraph were Girvan Aryal (’08) and Eben Krapfl (’09). Both completed internships with the company and were offered full-time positions. They work as computer engineers in two different areas of the company.
Krapfl, from Centralia, Iowa, capitalized on his academic and extracurricular activities to help him secure an internship. While on campus he participated in the Math Club and was president of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) Club. “Those experiences helped me take a leadership role and prepared me for working with others. I also was very persistent in searching for the internship. I was in contact with them a lot and they knew me pretty well by the time they offered me the internship. Also, my computer science classes were excellent. Through projects with partners I learned what it takes to succeed in the business world,” Krapfl said.
Aryal, a native of Kathmandu, Nepal, heard about his internship through a professor. “I applied and was lucky to get the internship. During my time there I learned that the real world requires you to work together, to do your best and to do what is best for the company, not the individual person or ego. My experiences on campus, especially in my senior computer science project, helped me to be ready for the work world. I learned that I need to focus on the big picture for the good of the company,” he said.
Aryal did so well in the internship that he was offered a second one and then a full-time job. “I think my character and work ethic helped me to secure the job after graduation. I am respected as a member of the team and I just love that environment. I know that my time at Loras prepared me for this, especially the critical thinking, being ethical and learning how to be a good decision-maker … those were all things that helped me to succeed in a difficult job market,” he noted.
Both men say that their internships prepared them for transitioning to full-time work. “I know I had a definite advantage over other candidates because of my internship,” said Krapfl. “Plus, they knew me and how I worked. I got to come into the work world with a little less pressure since I knew the people and the processes at CartêGraph.”
Aryal observed that “being an ‘A’ student is important, but being able to communicate well with others is equally important. I was always keen to learn more and ask questions and share my ideas. I think that helped me transition to working in this environment every day. I love my job. It’s the best thing that I’ve ever done and CartêGraph is like my family,” he noted.
Two other members of the broader Loras “family” who connected through internships are Rob Stenander (’97) and Megan Backer (’06). Stenander, who graduated with a degree in accounting, found his passion for public accounting through another Loras alumnus who was working at KPMG, an international accounting firm with a large office in Chicago. “Kathy Hannan (’83) was an alum who helped me make a connection that ultimately resulted in my job.” He has been with the firm since 1997 and is a senior manager in the company’s real estate tax practice. Part of his responsibilities includes the recruitment and hiring of interns and employees. “We are looking for the best and brightest graduates, so GPA is important, but we also want candidates who have exhibited their leadership abilities on campus, whether through athletics, clubs, organizations or part-time employment,” said Stenander.
A strong recommendation from a Loras accounting professor led Stenander to Backer. “Megan had an extraordinary GPA and was very active on campus. I took the professor’s recommendation without reservation and after interviewing her, she entered our internship program in 2005,” noted Stenander. Upon completion of the internship she was offered full-time employment, even though she returned to campus for her senior year.
Backer noted that her experience was a great one and that the relief of having a job before she graduated was a plus. “I was able to return to the same area where I interned and I knew both what I would be doing and who I would be working with. I know that my experiences on campus really helped me, too. From the excellent accounting classes to working with a volunteer group on campus who did tax returns for free, to working in the Accounting Lab as a tutor for other students, I know that helped me be more prepared for the work world. I also took advantage of the services at the CEL to prepare me for networking and internship hunting,” she said.
Stenander added, “I got my opportunity because of a Loras alum. I have always remembered that and want to do my part to help others network and discover their opportunities.”