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Saturday, October 01, 2011 - Summer internship projects link business and community

Oakland University put a wealth of energy, skills and enthusiasm to work for area communities this year through the School of Business Administration’s 2011 CIBRE Summer Internship program.


Participating undergraduate and graduate students took on projects for Auburn Hills, Clarkston, Eastpointe (in partnership with Roseville), Macomb County and Waterford.


The internship program, sponsored by the SBA's Center for Integrated Business Research and Education (CIBRE) offers business students real-world work experience while providing a tuition stipend. Students work directly with business professionals, and they develop skills and knowledge that enhance their marketability.


This year marked the first summer devoted entirely to community engagements. Each of the partnering municipalities and organizations had turned to the SBA to help it address a need it lacked the resources or manpower to resolve on its own.


“It’s a win-win,” says Kent Roberts, who coordinated two partnerships this summer between the SBA and Waterford Township. “Students get to experience real-life learning, and communities have a resource they wouldn’t have ordinarily had. Having OU involved also adds legitimacy to the projects involved. It makes the participants feel of more value, and it adds more structure.”


Inspired to achieve

MBA candidate Kelly Ross of Romeo worked on two projects this summer. The Auburn Hills Chamber of Commerce needed assistance to support and strengthen a strategic business plan. Ross conducted an extensive SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis for the organization, along with a benchmarking study.


Ross also worked on marketing materials for a collaborative effort between the Roseville and Eastpointe Parks and Recreations departments, which were developing a millage proposal that would allow them to combine their individual city offices into one shared parks and recreation department. City officials say the combined department would allow them to restore a number of programs lost to budget cuts.


“The Eastpointe/Roseville proposal is such a great opportunity for both communities that it inspired me to want to help them achieve success,” says Ross, who runs her own tennis instruction business.


“The most rewarding benefit with the Auburn Hills Chamber of Commerce project has been meeting Denise Asker, the executive director,” Ross continues. “I’d love to follow her example in terms of management style and business savvy. In the conversations she and I have had, I’ve learned countless things about being an executive director, including how to motivate your employees, how to balance multiple needs and opinions of all involved and how to lead a stagnant business into success.”


Asker says she appreciates Ross’ assistance with the strategic planning. “She’s been very helpful. We were only able to go so deep before, and she took us a lot further.”


Chance to lead


MBA candidate and Troy resident Steve Valentine saw the internship program as an opportunity to help others and learn simultaneously.


He and fellow MBA candidate Jim Richardson assisted community leaders in Waterford Township as they delved into the process of setting up a community foundation. Valentine served as a project manager.


“They had manpower willing to put the time in, but not necessarily the background on taking that first bite out of the elephant,” says Valentine, an engineer who hopes to pursue a career in finance.


Valentine and Richardson made it a priority during the internship to empower the community residents they worked with to be able to take over after the internship project ended. “The local folks are the ones who are going to own it and run it,” he adds


"By the end of the project, we were pretty close to finding some answers,” says Roberts, who also is the founder director of the nonprofit National Civility Center. “We wouldn’t be where we’re at without the students.”


Worth the challenge


The second Waterford Township project called for assessing strategies to leverage Oakland County International Airport to benefit the community.


Graduate students Swathi Chimalapati and Yazan Ibrahim conducted research to better connect the airport to the community and entice more businesses to locate there.


“I thought it would be a good chance to gain experience and grow confident in my abilities,” says Chimalapati, an MBA candidate from Rochester. “I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people -- to make a lot of connections -- I don’t think I would have been able to otherwise.”


The project was fairly immense, she says. “It was a challenge for me to identify, define and reduce the scope so I could get it done during the summer.”


Ibrahim, an MBA candidate from Troy, interviewed representatives from several flight-training organizations for feedback.


The research put Watership Township on the right path, Roberts says. “This was really a fact-finding summer. Everyone learned a lot, and the work will continue.”


Ibrahim also was involved in another Auburn Hills Chamber of Commerce project, where he and graduate student Dovoushka Sansi helped the chamber clarify its goal of engaging businesses in university education.


The students are organizing focus group meetings to gather feedback for the project, which was inspired by earlier partnerships between the chamber and OU.


This feedback will help the chamber more clearly define what businesses want from the university and the students, Asker says.


Projects were not limited to graduate students.


Accounting major John Capuano supported Clarkston High School’s efforts to develop a career-related curriculum. “The goal was to create a partnership between businesses in Clarkston and the high school so students can have a better learning experience,” the Commerce resident says. “The curriculum would include job shadowing opportunities, scholarship competitions and internships in subjects like accounting, marketing, computer programming and engineering.”


Capuano interacted with Clarkston High School faculty, conducted research on community links and developed a survey to gain broader feedback from students. Based his results, the school created a brochure to attract businesses to engage with the high school, and the school is on target to introduce a new curriculum in 2012.


“This internship gave me real life experience working with business professionals and educators, which will definitely benefit me in the long run,” he says.


A smarter community


With projects addressing economic development, community services, transportation, recreation, arts and entertainment, and social entrepreneurism, the 2011 CIBRE Summer Internships reinforced the importance of business, university and communities partnering for success.


The SBA’s summer internship is an asset to the community, Asker says. “It has great value. Without a lot of time invested as a business, I was able to communicate what I needed. The students worked independently. It’s great, especially for something with a defined scope.”


Roberts says the internship experiences enhanced Waterford's relationship with OU. “We had thought of Oakland University as a partner to Rochester and Auburn Hills. Now we feel they are a partner with us. That's really important.”


Roberts also enjoyed watching the participating students interact with city leaders, chamber representatives and a city trustee. “We had people at the highest levels working with these students. It really was a cross-community effort.”


The students agree.


“Local communities get the raw talent of the university students and fresh ideas, and students benefit from solving problems,” Chimalapati notes.


Ibrahim values the experiences. “It was a great opportunity to practice business, develop strong skills and experience real-life problems,” he says.



By Flori Meeks CAS '88