Since Sentry Insurance opened its Information Technology Co-op in downtown Stevens Point in June 2016, several patterns have emerged:
- UW-Stevens Point students are not only getting real-world experience. They’re often piloting some of the newest technology.
- They have established credibility with Sentry’s home office for delivering solutions.
- These students, with between six to 18 months of experience, are often finding jobs with Sentry, one of the largest mutual insurance companies.
Ben Kewaygeshik, who moved to central Wisconsin from Michigan, knew he wanted to work at Sentry when he transferred to UW-Stevens Point. “It just so happens the co-op opened my first semester here. There are a lot of opportunities at the IT co-op,” he said.
He’s worked on a data application to support a keyword search solution for an internal Sentry project. It was also his senior “capstone” project for his double major in Computer Information Systems and Web and Digital Media Development.
On Dec. 27, he became a full-time associate working with a Sentry Information Technology team that supports customer relationship management applications for Sentry sales.
“This (co-op) is a completely different environment — relaxed, focused on building skills, working together,” Kewaygeshik said. “Some of my best friends are those who joined the co-op with me or joined along the way.”
The work environment is open, contemporary, with workstation pods that encourage collaboration. These pods were piloted at the co-op and are now being added to several departments at Sentry Home Office.
“I want everyone who’s in the Computing and New Media Technologies (CNMT) field to know about the IT co-op,” said Matt Kleine, among the inaugural group of student-employees who joined Sentry full-time in claims IT after graduating this month.
“Most internships are a summer or a semester. Here, I have immediately gained 1½ years of professional experience before graduating,” said Kleine, a Computer Information Systems major from Waupaca.
Students do not have to be too far along with their coursework before joining the IT co-op, said manager Steven Fox. “We’re looking for problem solvers. Programming is just a tool. Solutions still need creative problem-solving skills.”
“They’re not just learning in their classes, they’re learning on the job,” said Tim Krause, UW-Stevens Point associate professor and CNMT department chair, who worked with Sentry to forge this partnership.
Students work 12-19 hours weekly when UW-Stevens Point is in session and 40 hours a week in summer. Those majoring in information systems or web/digital media related fields at UW-Stevens Point are welcome to apply for positions. Students work on projects with real-world expectations but without the same deadline pressures full-time workers have.
“The pay is competitive, you have flexible hours, free snacks, games, and we can play with VR,” Kleine said.
Virtual reality is not just for play. Sentry is using three-dimensional images from this technology for claims assessment and exploring other possible uses. “We let college students who have enthusiasm for VR technology get involved in figuring out possibilities,” Fox said. “It’s exciting.”
A well-stocked refrigerator, foosball table, pool table, video games, drones and a perpetually in-progress robot are among other benefits for co-op student-employees.
Leo Skadden, a student-employee since June 2017, enjoys working with robotics and augmented reality at the co-op. He may have a “stroke of inspiration” when he steps away from a work project. “A lot of times when you take a break, the creative juices keep flowing.”
“It’s hard to know when innovation strikes, but if you give bright, eager minds broad experiences, I believe it inspires creativity,” Fox said.
Skadden of Minneapolis, began full-time work at Sentry in January. “It’s great to be around so many people who know so much and are happy to help answer your questions,” he said.
The co-op employs approximately 10 students at a time. “I hope to inspire more students to go to the university and get involved with the co-op,” Fox said.
Beginning in 2018, the co-op will expand into information security projects, an increasingly vital element to build into applications, Fox said.
Sentry’s IT Co-op is attractive to students and parents alike, Krause said. “Students are focused on what kind of experience they’ll have at UW-Stevens Point, and parents are concerned about paying for it and their return on investment.” Some have told him “this co-op is the reason I chose UW-Stevens Point.”
For more information on the Co-op program and how to apply, contact Hannah Krueger, College Recruiting and Program Specialist, at Hannah.Krueger@Sentry.com or 715-346-6281. For more information on CNMT programs at UW-Stevens Point, visit uwsp.edu/cnmt.