By Daniel J Vaccaro
What if an email could change your life?
Not possible, right? That long list of messages (especially when you’re copied on a chain) seems more likely to diminish your life than change it.
But don’t tell that to Charles Oyewole, who received a future-altering email in his inbox in early 2015 while he was still a business student at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
The email invited him to participate in an event called Diversity Day at a company named Arrow Electronics, Inc.
“I didn’t know the company and thought maybe it was an electronics store looking for students to provide free internship services – cheap labor, so to speak,” Oyewole recalls with a laugh. “Then I looked them up online and saw they were a Fortune 150 company; I started making plans to attend the event.”
On the other end of that correspondence was Amy Bechtum, career specialist in MSU Denver’s Office of Career Services, who’d been cultivating a relationship with Arrow for the better part of a year.
“Arrow has a very competitive summer internship program with more than 150 interns hired each year,” she said. “Arrow Diversity Day is one of the ways they recruit for it. Until then, we weren’t really on their radar as a place to source talent, so to get invited was a major opportunity for our students.”
Bechtum knew that the students – and the University – needed to make a memorable first impression for the invitation to stick. With 40 to 50 students from four schools expected at the event, she wanted to make sure the MSU Denver group stood out. So, she organized a prep night, where she and her colleague, Cathy Hehr, from MSU Denver’s Applied Learning Center, met with students who were recommended for the program by University faculty and staff. They worked on resume revisions, brainstormed questions and shared tips for success at a professional networking event.
The day finally arrived in March. Oyewole dressed in his best suit and headed to the on-site event, looking forward to learning about the company’s culture. If all went well, he hoped he might be considered for an internship interview.
He got more than he expected.
“I was surprised to see top-level executives on the panels,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that the leaders cared enough to meet me and my peers in person – potential interns. I was very impressed.”
Oyewole applied and got an internship. He graduated from MSU Denver in May 2015 with a degree in accounting and computer information systems and started as an intern in June. He must have impressed the right people because he was offered a full-time job shortly thereafter, becoming a supply chain field support specialist on the same team he’d worked on as an intern.
All told, six MSU Denver interns have transitioned into full-time jobs over the last two years, and that seems to be the start of a trend.
“Once we had students hired as interns, Arrow came back to us and said they’d like to bring in more,” said Bridgette Coble, Ph.D., director of Career Services. “They told us they would guarantee an interview for any student who participated in Arrow Diversity Day. That’s a reflection on the caliber of our students.”
While a job might be the ideal outcome of any internship experience, there are also many learning opportunities along the way.
For Tyler Box, an intern with Arrow in summer 2016, one of the best learning experiences was the case competition. The contest splits interns into teams of 10 and each group is given the same task – to create a plan to bring a new product to market. Teams work together to build that plan from scratch and present it to company executives at the end of the summer.
Box also appreciated the many networking opportunities available at the company. “I went to a lot of Q&As with upper-level executives and intern-sponsored events. I reached out to other teams and was able to schedule informational interviews. I got to learn about the business and what roles fit my skills and interests. Those experiences were so fruitful.”
Box graduated from MSU Denver in May 2016 with a degree in business management, including a minor in Spanish. His internship ended on Aug. 12, 2016, and his full-time job as a business development manager started three days later.
Jackie Maldonado, who graduated from MSU Denver in fall 2016 with a degree in marketing, also turned her internship into a full-time role. She is a global business analyst focused on cloud technology at Arrow and recommends the experience to everyone she can.
“It’s such a great place to work,” she said. “The company really wants its interns to be successful. They are investing in their future, and ours.”
Teresa Kostenbauer, the senior manager of university recruitment and relations with Arrow, says that MSU Denver students and graduates fit so well at the company because of their innovative spirit and determination.
“Arrow is all about innovation. To be successful here, you need to embrace ambiguity and live in a world that doesn’t quite exist yet,” she said. “You need to have grit, too. And I think that describes MSU Denver students. They know how to be resourceful and are relentless in reaching their goals. They are diverse in their thinking and backgrounds. Those qualities have helped them make major contributions to our work.”
The relationship between MSU Denver and Arrow continues to blossom, according to Bechtum.
“Since our initial conversation about three years ago, we have been exploring other ways we might work together, and it’s been amazing to watch ideas come to fruition.”
Bechtum says that Arrow now participates in career fairs and info sessions on campus. An executive from Arrow plans to speak in some business classes, and the hope is to make visits like that a regular part of the curriculum. Leaders from the company also sit on the College of Business employer advisory board.
Another beneficial, if unexpected, result of the relationship is how it has inspired other companies to want to embark on something similar.
“When companies hear about our work with Arrow, they ask how they can get involved,” said Bechtum. Charles Schwab and Ball are two organizations that have already begun to work with MSU Denver to create opportunities for students.
Of course, opportunities only matter when students take advantage. Which is why Oyewole suggests keeping a close eye on your email inbox.
“You never know what might show up,” he said.
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