Thoughts on a summer like no other from student leaders

Every year in the Xtern program the TechPoint Team selects a handful of students to serve as Xtern Leaders. Their purpose is to create meaningful and intentional opportunities, strengthen communication lines and keep a close pulse on overall engagement and sentiment throughout Xtern’s ten-week program. 

The 2021 Xtern Leaders were:

Cassidy Belk, Valparaiso University ‘22, who interned with Innovatemap;

Deandra Rodricks , University of Indianapolis ‘22, who interned with BlackInk IT;

Janet Lovera, Butler University ‘23, who interned with Delta Faucet Company;

Louis Labuzienski, Indiana University-Bloomington ‘22, who interned with Sallie Mae and;

Trizton Carson, Wabash College  ‘23, who interned with Stanley Security.

Each took very different paths to their leadership opportunity within the Xtern community, but their shared experiences brought them together as a team and helped create a truly special summer. But let’s hear directly from them:

Internships Lost but Opportunities Gained

Louis Labuzienski had secured his 2020 Xtern spot and was applying to be an Xtern Leader when COVID-19 came along and threw the world into chaos. Like thousands of other students, Louis’ internship opportunity was rescinded as companies cut back in response to the pandemic. 

TechPoint created The S.O.S. Challenge in 2020 to replace up to 500 of those lost internships and to provide learning and growth opportunities. Louis and his fellow Xtern Leader Deandra Rodricks took part in that Challenge. 

“The skills I got during the summer made the next two semesters quite a bit easier since I already got the fundamental knowledge of web development and design,” Louis said. “Then, in the fall of 2020 I knew I wanted to try Xtern again so that I could get my Indy experience.”

Deandra was excited to learn that Xtern was open to international students. 

“I learned so much through The S.O.S. Challenge, especially amidst a pandemic, and I wanted to advance in my career through TechPoint,” she said. “With great interest and hope I applied to be an Xtern for summer 2021.”

Xtern Opportunities Go Beyond Coding

With two of the Xtern Leaders already familiar with the Xtern program, and eager to apply for the Class of 2021, the remaining Leaders found out about the ultimate internship experience during the all-virtual recruitment process in autumn 2020.

“It all started back in the fall semester when Wabash sent out an email advertising about Xtern,” explained Trizton Carson. “I saw free housing and jumped all over it, but now looking back on what was an amazing summer, I would not want to change it for the world.”

When Janet Lovera first heard about the Xtern Program, she thought it was only for future computer scientists and software engineers. She learned about the wide array of roles at a TechPoint informational session.

“As a web design major, with very limited coding experience, I didn’t know whether there would be opportunities for me,” she said. 

Xtern Leader Cassidy Belk heard about the Xtern program from a friend at Valparaiso University who had been slated to participate in the program in 2020 but who, like Louis, had his offer rescinded.

“There aren’t very many well-marketed opportunities for business in tech. So, when my friend explained that there were options for marketing and business majors, I was immediately interested,” Cassidy said. “Because of my financial condition, free housing was a huge selling point for me, and I really liked the idea of having an internship nailed down before the new year. All in all, it just seemed like a great deal – and it was.”

Work Samples & Interviews – The Xtern Admissions Process

After applications for the Xtern program closed, each of the Xtern Leaders-to-be entered Xtern’s admissions process, making it through a resume screening and moving on to the Work Sample Assessment stage. This process asks applicants to show what they know within the field they are hoping to find internships (e.g. UX Design, engineering, marketing, DevOps, etc.), and is evaluated annually by industry professionals and university professors.

The Work Sample Assessment process gives students an opportunity to shine, and to show off their full potential. “Getting to research and design a layout for a fictional food delivery app was both insightful and fun,” Janet explained about her own assessment. “Not only was I proud of how it turned out, but it gave me a first look at what I could potentially be doing as a career and helped me realize how passionate I was about it.”  

Each Xtern Leader showcased their skills through their assessments, but Cassidy’s marketing assessment was so impressive that Sara Croft, Principal, Growth Marketing for Innovatemap, who evaluated Cassidy’s assessment, hired her on the spot.

“Up until that moment, I had never felt sure of myself and my chosen major,” Cassidy said. 

“I began college as a pre-med student, and I had no idea what I wanted to do after I switched. More importantly, I felt that there was little value to my work, despite having worked incredibly hard. What could I possibly contribute that someone else, further into their career with more experience, couldn’t already give? Having someone as talented and respected as Sara Croft look at something I made and say ‘hire her’ without having interviewed me gave me a huge confidence boost. It was a great indicator that I was moving in the right direction and was prepared to do some really cool things. Additionally, I knew instantly that we were a great match to work together. She took a leap, and I am very grateful to her.”

The Xtern Leaders, along with around 200 other exceptional students, moved on to become Xtern Finalists and joined dozens of employers for the first-ever virtual Xtern Finalist Day, made possible by Filo’s virtual events platform.

“Now, Finalist Day comes around and I have two interviews. I was slightly intimidated by the fact that I only had two interviews and knew that I was going to have to crush them out of the ballpark to lock my spot down in Xtern for 2021,” said Trizton. “Not knowing what to expect from a virtual interview I just hoped for the best and attacked it with both feet on the ground.”

“While Finalist Day was stressful, I gained a lot of experience in talking to interviewers and how I can better myself in the future,” Deandra said. “All in all, the application and admissions processes were straightforward and I heard back exactly when I was told I would be informed about my results.” 

Louis was able to contrast the in-person versus remote Finalist Day experiences. “Rather than being in a giant conference center inside the heart of Indy, I was in Bloomington, all dressed up for my interviews just inches away from my bed. In some ways, it was easier because I could connect on a more personal level since some employers noticed my plants, but in other ways, it was much harder to pick up social cues and have a natural conversation. Fortunately, I made it through and got my offer that night.”

Becoming An Xtern Leader

In order to secure their positions as Leaders, these five Xterns went through an additional application process and were selected from a pool of 13 by the TechPoint Talent Team.

“[Xtern Leadership] gave me the ability to help out wherever I was needed and helped me grow as an individual and as a leader,” Trizton said.

Louis turned to the great Hoosier bard himself, Kurt Vonnegut, in explaining why he decided to come back after applying in 2020 and try again to be an Xtern Leader. “Community has always been extremely important to me. As Vonnegut said, ‘What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.’” 

“That’s what I wanted to do, cure the terrible disease of loneliness,” Louis said. “Throughout college, I’ve been a part of and a leader of multiple tech communities and that’s why I initially applied to be an Xtern Leader. It had all of the fun parts of being an RA without any of the negatives. Since I wanted to be a part of a community I knew I had to try again and so I did.”

Leading In The Xtern Program

The Leaders’ first opportunity to engage with the full Xtern class came on Orientation Day at Butler University.

“The Xtern leader position gave me an excuse to get people out of their shell, which I love doing,” Cassidy said. “I felt more comfortable walking up to someone and starting a conversation because it was my job to do so. The position kept me accountable and encouraged me to attend as many events as I could (even when I was feeling particularly turtle-ish).”

Because part of the Xtern Class of 2021 lived remotely and part lived on Butler University’s campus, the Leaders were tasked with ensuring all members of the class felt included. 

“It was a challenge to build a sense of community in a hybrid environment, but my fellow Xtern Leaders and I tried to maintain good and effective communication throughout the summer,” Deandra said. “ We were able to put up some fun events that helped Xterns connect in-person and virtually too.”

Not only did the Xtern Leaders help build a sense of community, they also got to help their fellow Xterns explore Indianapolis. In turn, they all got to experience the city in ways none of them had before.

“We got to try out local restaurants and see places that make Indy unique such as the Indianapolis Zoo and the various cultural districts,” Janet said. “Even though I’ve lived in Indy my entire life, there were so many new places I was able to experience for the first time.”

Louis counted the zoo as a highpoint, as well as, “an Indy Eleven game which was the first of three games I went to this summer, and the first of the three Indy Eleven losses I saw this summer.”

Growing As A Tech Professional

One major part of the Xtern program is to introduce Indianapolis to the students, and to show them why it’s a wonderful place to live, work, and play. The Xtern Leaders played an integral role in creating a strong sense of community and encouraging their peers to get out and explore the city. They did this while also working full-time internship roles within the Indianapolis tech ecosystem, and subsequently learning and growing as professionals.

“The internship with Stanley Security was an amazing opportunity for me to step a bit outside my comfort zone and try something new, Inside Sales,” Trizton said. “I felt that I was drinking from a firehouse for the first week or so, but with the help and support from my amazing team around me, I was able to accomplish and learn so many different things this summer.”

Janet got the chance to research and present a proposal to receive funding for reports that would aid her internship project at Delta Faucet Company. “I worked directly with third-party partners emailing about project updates,” she said. “I learned about what the application of user experience research looks like in real-world scenarios and eCommerce design. Not only did I grow professionally, but I worked with an amazing team that was supportive and gave thoughtful advice.”

Louis’ internship with Sallie Mae didn’t come with a strict “how-to” guide. “I had to implement a database monitoring tool and work with multiple teams in order to figure out the best plan of attack and then implement it. I felt legitimately useful to my team and to the company as a whole,” he said.

Cassidy said she learned a lot about tech, product, marketing, networking, event planning and sales. 

“But the most valuable things that I learned were about myself and my role on a team,” she said. “The team helped me feel confident about, and see the value in, my work. I understand the impact of true collaboration and how a team can effectively work together to create something better than what one person could have done on their own. Most importantly, I realized the importance of a growth mindset and the impact that attitude can have on your life.”

Blackink IT gave Deandra a lot of opportunities that helped her grow professionally and personally. “The culture and environment of Blackink IT are welcoming, inclusive, and fun. I truly appreciated the time taken by my coworkers to get to know me as an individual and all the help I received throughout the 10 weeks,” she said.

Deandra and Cassidy will be staying on part-time with their respective internships through the fall semester. Cassidy will be returning to Indianapolis to join Innovatemap full-time upon graduating from Valparaiso University.

Interested In The Xtern Program?

STUDENTS

Tech and business skilled students interested in joining the Xtern Class of 2022 can apply for the program by clicking HERE; applications close Monday, October 11, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

EMPLOYERS

Companies interested in bringing top talent to their internship program for summer 2022 can submit an Xtern Contact Form form by clicking HERE!