It is not enough to go through school with perfect grades anymore. Yes, those A’s look great on paper, but it now as important as ever to be able to tell your future employer, ‘I have experience.’
In 2012, Calumet College of St. Joseph applied for and won a Lilly Endowment grant to form the EEON, or the Enterprise Expansion Opportunity Network, an initiative designed to support the growth of Northwest Indiana businesses and organizations, all while improving the job prospects of Indiana college graduates. The program is essentially an internship program, where a soon-to-be graduate partners with a local business to gain "real world" experience.
Kelli Watson, the Career Services Coordinator of CCSJ, said the program is a way to encourage students to get that upper hand in the workforce or to strive toward higher education and credentials.
“The program was designed to raise the unemployment rate in Indiana,” she said, noting that by having an intern, businesses and organizations can get that extra help without having a salaried position. Business are also granted early access to talented potential employers, and can save time and money when hiring that intern who already knows the ins-and-outs of the company, rather than hiring and training a new person.
The EEON program is still growing at CCSJ, and during the first year or two, there were only nine associates who were either juniors or seniors.
“When I came on in August in 2016, I have brought on 28 new associates just this year,” she said. “My goal when I first started in the fall was to begin to really utilize the grant funds to be able to promote and market to students to find really great employers in the community.”
Thanks to Watson meeting with business owners, organization leaders, and attending club meetings throughout the area, she now can offer up to 40 diverse partnerships for the associates once they get into the program. Now, sophomores at CCSJ are expressing their interest in getting started early on the intern experience.
However, EEON is not a program a student just decides he or she would like to join next week. To be accepted, the student must go through an extensive application process to become an EEON Associate.
The students must complete class pre-requisites, must have an overall GPA of 2.75 or above and a major GPA of 3.0 or above, and must also supply their school transcripts. They must also schedule weekly meetings with Watson who goes over proper skill-building topics, like resumes and cover letter writing.
“It is a pretty extensive process to become an associate,” she said. “Then, there is the interview process, where we have a panel compiled of staff members, myself, and business members.”
The 2016 EEON program is actually wrapping up, and the 2017 program is just beginning. On Wednesday, March 22, Watson hosted the annual EEON Associates Induction Ceremony. During the program, those who were chosen as new associates were honored for making the program and were recognized with the business or organization they will be working with, or if they are still looking for the perfect place.
“We want to make it a prestigious event and make it stand out to other students who may say, ‘Wow, I want to be recognized and have those achievements too,’” she said.
For those ending their partnership or continuing it, the ceremony is a way to honor their commitment and hard work. Watson even chooses an Employer of the Year and an Associate of the Year to recognize.
“We choose an intern who has really shown growth within the program throughout their time, who had great reviews from their supervisor, and show that they are able to take what they are learning and utilize it upon graduation,” she said. “We recognize the employer who had great communication, who embodies the mission of the Lilly grant and who has the potential to hire interns upon graduation, and who have participated in other events on campus.”
This year, the 2016 Employer of the Year was Matthew Baker Inc., a wealth management company in Highland. Baker is a CCSJ alum, who has been a guest speaker before at the campus.
The Associate of the Year was an international student named Nilson Cano, who was interning within the CCSJ Athletics Communications department doing all their sports communications.
The best-case scenario, which happened with intern Renee Romero who worked for Baker, is that the EEON employer loves their associate to the point of wanting to hire him or her at graduation. Then, Watson can know that student has a successful future, the business is happy, and she can start looking for another intern to replace the now hired employee. Baker will be hiring Romero in April, leaving Watson plenty of time to fill the spot.
As the program grows Watson believes this scenario will become a regular reality, securing good jobs for their students and decreasing that unemployment rate number in Indiana year after year.
To learn more about the EEON program, click here.