It’s clear that Butler University’s Lacy School of Business (LSB) cares about experiential learning. There’s the school’s new building, designed to encourage collaboration between students, faculty, and the broader business community. There’s the Real Business Experience, during which every LSB student launches an actual product or service. And with a requirement that all students complete two internships before graduation, LSB’s emphasis on valuable work experience is no exception.
So, what happens when a global pandemic leaves the building empty and many internships canceled?
As soon as Associate Dean Bill Templeton realized that possibility, he raised the alarm. He started by decreasing the number of required internship hours from 240 to 125, providing more flexibility for students. Then, he began looking for ways to create new opportunities for those who suddenly found themselves without summer plans.
Thanks to support from Butler’s Old National Bank Center for Business Excellence (ONB Center), Templeton and other LSB faculty were able to add about 20 last-minute summer internship positions.
The ONB Center is working with a total of nearly 30 interns this summer, split between two tracks. Some are participating in the Center’s regular internship program (which was expanded to include more students), and others have joined the academic portions of that experience while working on faculty-led consulting projects.
“A lot of businesses have stepped up to offer opportunities,” Templeton explains. “We weren’t able to find positions for every student who wanted one, but we’re actually about where we normally are, with more than 200 students completing internships this summer. We have fewer students getting paid, and we have a lot more students doing virtual work. There are some downsides to not experiencing as much workplace culture, but overall, we’re keeping students on track to continue building their professional skills.”
Internships at the ONB Center
The ONB Center works with privately owned companies throughout Indiana, providing personalized business guidance and access to resources from partner companies. As part of a membership or partnership through the Center, businesses can also submit projects to be completed by Butler students.
“What differentiates this project-based work from other internships is that the companies don’t need to hire and supervise the student,” says Ginger Lippert, ONB Center Manager. “We are the ones doing that heavy lift, and we bill companies hourly for the students’ work.”
For ONB Center interns, this means the chance to experience a variety of projects for a range of companies and industries, a bit like working for an agency. Any given student works on at least three projects at a time, Lippert says—sometimes closer to eight. The interns coordinate events, conduct market research, plan product launches, streamline finances, and more.
Bella Ruscheinski, a Butler senior with majors in Marketing and Finance, was scheduled to start an Indianapolis-based staffing internship this summer. When COVID-19 hit, the role was postponed to the fall. Then, Ruscheinski found out it was canceled completely.
But she had already been interning with the ONB Center since January, and in early May, she learned she could stay on for the summer.
“I was ecstatic,” Ruscheinski says. “I knew this would give me an even deeper learning experience. The skills I gained in the spring helped prepare me for the leadership role I’ve taken on now, providing support for the other interns. It’s an incredible opportunity.”
Throughout her time with the ONB Center, Ruscheinski has focused mostly on contributing to marketing efforts for the Center and its member businesses. She has written blogs, planned content calendars, compiled newsletters, and helped with some market research, among other tasks. Through all the projects, she has especially valued the opportunity to work directly with clients.
“At Butler, we are really taught in terms of real-world experience,” Ruscheinski says. “I’ve loved the chance to use the skills I’ve learned in class during this internship. I’ve also learned an incredible amount about time management: In a consulting role, you’re balancing more than just one project or even one team.”
Each week, the interns attend meetings that supplement hands-on work experience with other professional development activities. The students use this time to collaborate, learn from one another, or hear from guest speakers. Lippert says this academic side provides a broader, more holistic experience.
Faculty-led consulting projects
Now, the ONB Center is also offering its professional development sessions to other students who are participating in a variety of faculty-led consulting projects.
Working with teams of about five students each, several LSB faculty members have designed makeshift summer internships by connecting with companies to find real-world projects.
Daniel McQuiston, Associate Professor of Marketing and one of the project leaders, started by reaching out to Jordan Cohen, who has been working with Delta Faucet Company since graduating from Butler in 2016.
“I asked Jordan if Delta had any kind of marketing issue they would like to know more about,” McQuiston explains. “It turns out Delta is interested in looking at the feasibility of marketing an internet-only brand—officially known as a digitally native vertical brand—like Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker, Casper Sleep, or Allbirds Shoes. A number of other companies have already launched internet-only faucet brands, and Delta is in the exploratory stage of trying to decide whether to follow suit.”
Through the summer experience, Butler students are helping answer this question by conducting secondary and consumer research about what has made other digitally native brands successful. After learning more about the faucet industry, the students led interviews and built a questionnaire to gather data that can help Delta make a more informed decision.
McQuiston says this kind of data collection tends to make up a huge part of marketing, and the project allows students to gain more experience while having the added accountability of serving a real company on a real issue.
“This is real-life stuff,” he says. “In class, a teacher wants you to write a paper, so you write it, turn it in, and just kind of forget about it. But that’s not what this is. Delta Faucet is expecting real information—insights they can take and use. The more we get students actually doing these things, the more they are going to understand.”
For Willie Moran, a rising senior with a major in Marketing, the Delta Faucet project has provided a deeper understanding of how valuable it can be to talk directly with consumers, as well as the importance of staying competitive in an online marketplace.
This summer, Moran was supposed to have a marketing internship with a manufacturing company in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He had just been offered the position, but two days later, the company called back to say they’d had to implement a hiring freeze and cancel all their internships due to COVID-19.
“When Professor McQuiston heard about that, he reached out to tell me about the project he was planning,” Moran says. “I’d just finished up a sales class with him, and he thought I would be a good fit for the team. I had been stressing out trying to figure out how I was going to meet my internship requirements, but this worked out really well.”
Associate Dean Templeton says he knows requiring all LSB students to complete two internships can be an investment, and it can demand a lot of flexibility.
“But we think it’s so worthwhile,” he says. “Internships provide great opportunities for students to learn their disciplines a little more permanently, and a little more deeply, if they are simultaneously working and reflecting on what they have been learning in the curriculum.”
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