Throwing a Lifeline to Indiana College Students 

Throwing a Lifeline to Indiana College Students 

By Merillat Flowers, Senior Director of Talent Programs & Team Development, TechPoint

As the world continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, few organizations are thinking about the thousands of college students whose summer internships were among the millions of dollars in budget cuts.

TechPoint, though, was focused on those losses early on and remained so because providing the state’s tech sector with a steady influx of fresh and energetic new talent is a major part of its mission. The internships are not just good for the students, giving them wages as well as insights into whether they’d chosen their career fields wisely. They’re also good for employers, giving them a leg up on recruiting new young workers while also showcasing leadership skills among those who manage the temporary talent.

Prior to shelter-in-place orders being contemplated in Indiana, the TechPoint Talent Team was going about its normal Q1 and Q2 prep work for the seventh edition of our Xtern program, which places nearly 200 Indiana college students in tech internships for the summer and has proven to be not just a talent pipeline, but an image enhancer for the state. When tech companies in March reluctantly started revoking their Xtern offers, the TechPoint team went to work on a backup plan.

A plan initially designed to help the 80 or so displaced Xterns rapidly expanded to embrace more than 400 additional college students.

The result was the Summer Opportunities for Students, or S.O.S. Challenge that provided $250,000 in stipends and 5-weeks of work experience to 500 students from Indiana colleges and universities.  The students worked in teams on a COVID-related challenge, earned $500 each and an item on their resume that may not fully replace a traditional summer internship, but should be enough to catch any employers’ eye.

And for a few of the teams, even more. The best performing teams — as judged by a panel of subject matter experts and Governor Eric Holcomb — will share in a $25,000 prize purse.

The S.O.S. Challenge was supported with existing Lilly Endowment funds allocated to the TechPoint talent programs and supported by 200 volunteer team “coaches” from about 50 Indiana tech companies ranging from the long established Angie’s List to newcomers like U.Group.  S.O.S. Challenge students met virtually with tech leaders, got a virtual introduction to Indianapolis and engaged in professional development experiences that prepared them to land a job in the future.

Teams were asked to focus on areas such as the workplace and work-from-home environments, telehealth, sports and entertainment events, e-learning, or community-based organizations and to prepare a product prototype and go-to-market plan that can help address solutions to COVID-related problems or that can create new opportunities.

While the strategy was born out of the pandemic, the S.O.S. Challenge provided our organization and the community an opportunity to engage with talent in a new way. We are excited to evaluate this innovative approach as part of our ongoing talent-focused offerings. Indiana continues to prove that by facing challenges together, and head on. By continuing to work together and overcoming obstacles in innovative ways, we’re confident that Indiana will become the country’s next major tech hub.

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Category Features, Last Word