Review of the 2011 Explore Rochester IT Rotational Program

Fourteen local college students were selected to participate in this year’s Explore Rochester IT summer internship program. This unique experience offers students studying information technology at area colleges the chance to learn about the business of IT, shadow IT professionals, and participate in projects at three participating companies over the course of nine weeks.

This year’s participants came from Rochester Institute of Technology, Nazareth College, SUNY Brockport, Monroe Community College, and Finger Lakes Community College. They were partnered up and rotated through three of the participating Rochester companies: Bausch & Lomb, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Iberdrola, PayChex, Rochester Institute of Technology, Unity Health, University of Rochester, and Wegmans, spending three weeks at a location.

At a recent gathering celebrating the culmination of the program hosted at Bausch & Lomb by Alan Farnsworth, CIO, the interns were asked questions about their experience and what they learned from it. Some major themes emerged from the session. To begin, the students were impressed with the level of IT security in place at all of the participating companies and the structure put around project management. Students also commented on the difference between what technologies are taught in classes and what technology is actually in use at the companies – specifically that many of the companies were using older technologies and that they needed to use their problem solving skills to come up to speed.

When asked about gaps in their educational experience, many of the students cited project management skills as something that they wanted to learn more about during their remaining collegiate career in order to help them in future employment opportunities. Other students noted that they wanted to invest in some business skills as a way to connect their IT degrees to the real business of information technology that they witnessed during their rotations.

During the session, students were asked about their greatest take-away from the experience.

Matthew Hammel, third year Computer Science major from Rochester Institute of Technology indicated that while college courses have taught him programming skills, the internship taught him how to apply them in the workplace.

Not every college student understands the importance of commenting code and writing documentation, but Dustin Robertson, a third year Networking and Systems Administration major from Rochester Institute of Technology learned that use of business standards and procedures in information technology was very important. The experience of working on a project that had been worked on by multiple people over the course of five years showed him how important comments and documentation can be in the workplace.

Joseph Jackson, second year Computer Information Technology major at SUNY Brockport, and Joshua Loukes, third year Information Technology major at Nazareth College, either provided insight into how this experience either helped them find their path or exposed them to the broad spectrum of industries that have IT departments.

Prior to this internship, Joe Hasselstrom, a second year Computer Science major from Monroe Community College, didn’t know why every job description required good communication skills. After participating in this internship and seeing how an IT organization functions, he now understands why companies ask for and emphasize soft skills in job descriptions.

Sometimes this program helps students find their or solidify their path in information technology. Samantha Symonds was one such student. Samantha, a student at Rochester Institute of Technology, recently changed majors within the IT field, but had no classes yet in her new intended field. She said that this internship helped her find her passion, something that is often lacking in employees. One of her mentors at Excellus mentioned to her that there were not enough people in the workforce with passion about what they do. This internship provided her the opportunity to discover that software architecture is something she loves and wants to do every day.

In addition to exposing students to the various aspects of information technology, the program also looks to expose them to the idea of staying in Rochester after graduation. One of the students summed it up best when he said,”I thought that I wanted to stay in Rochester, but wasn’t hearing that there were opportunities in the area. I was surprised that there are so many companies involved in this program and that these companies had such large IT departments. I am now feeling better about a decision to stay in Rochester.”

Dan Canzano, CIO of PayChex, closed the session by indicating that he would hire all six of the students that came through his company. He said that they all had the passion, attitude, and work ethic that he would like to add to his team. He reminded the students that technology wasn’t a separate part of any business – technology is the business. It underlies everything we do to be successful today. He reminded them to continue their learning and to look for chances to make a difference.