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Students learn in business environment
INTERNSHIP ADDS EXPERIENCE TO CLASSROOM TRAINING

21 May 2012

BISMARCK (UTN) - There’s an unmistakable air of professionalism about Lora Grey Bear and Andrea Addison. Both had a career experience that made an impression.

As students in the United Tribes Small Business Management Program, they had an eye-opening, six-week internship at one of the nation’s leading health care benefits companies. At the Aetna Bismarck Service Center they saw what it would be like working in a large business.


United Tribes business students Lora Grey Bear, center, and Andrea Addison experienced business on the inside during an internship at the Bismarck offices of Aetna, one of the leading health care benefits companies in the nation. DENNIS J. NEUMANN<>United Tribes News

“This is all new to me,” said Addison (Northern Arapaho) from the Wind River Reservation. “There’s nothing near Ethete, Wyoming quite like this.”

Indeed, Aetna is unlike businesses on or near most of the large, land-based reservations in the west. Headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut, the company serves over 36 million customers with over 35,000 employees. The Bismarck location employs 442, ranking it among the city’s top 10 employers, and is responsible for more than 1,000 others in the state and around the country.

Over the past few years, company representatives developed a relationship with United Tribes during jobs and diversity fairs. Late last year a group visited the campus for a one-day tour and orientation. It seemed like a good fit to be involved with the college’s business program, which requires a three-credit Experimental Learning course as part of the degree plan for graduation.

“We were excited and jumped at the chance to be part of that,” said Linda D. Homan, Function Head for Claim Cost Management and Quality Improvement. “The company is always hiring. It’s a great opportunity to become involved in the educational process of potential new business leaders.”

Welcoming Corporate Culture
Aetna’s and UTTC’s shared goal with the internships is to introduce students to the professional business environment.

“Most people coming out of college have not had an opportunity to be involved in that experience,” said Homan. “The hope is they’ll become comfortable with the professional environment.”

One of the key values emphasized by Aetna is how to work with people: both the clients who receive insurance services and the staff people who provide them.

“They’re learning how we support our employees and how we serve our constituents,” said Homan.

As a corporate citizen with locations throughout the country, Aetna values its place in each community and the benefits of diversity.

“We look for opportunities throughout the community to bring diversity into our organization,” said Homan. “Diversity brings new ideas and variations of ideas to the table. To me that’s the strength of diversity.”

Inviting Opportunity
The company’s caring, customer-focused staff and civic-minded culture appealed to the UTTC mentees, or protégés, as Homan called them, who experienced a certain amount of anxiety entering into an unfamiliar environment.

“At first, I was kinda scared but I got used to it,” said Addison, who chose to have her internship at Aetna from among the list of participating businesses because she wanted to see the inside of a big company. Back home in Wyoming, her late father owned a small, general contracting company, now run by a brother. A place is waiting for her but suddenly there are new horizons. “It seems like there’s a lot of motivation here. Corporations like this are expanding. It’s exciting to have people in different cities. But it’s also caring here.”

“I’d never attended business meetings before,” said Grey Bear, who is from the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota. When she looked at the list of different companies, Aetna caught her eye for the purpose of a dual learning opportunity. “As far as insurance, I didn’t know anything about it. I thought it would be a plus to know about insurance and how it works.”

Program Focus
Each Wednesday morning Grey Bear and Addison signed for a security pass and entered the Aetna building in north Bismarck to spend the morning learning what goes on in the organization.

The internship brought them in contact with members of the company’s management team and other team leaders. In meetings and one-on-one conversations, they learned about the company’s purpose and when it was established. They were briefed about incentive programs, attendance, professional development, and training opportunities. They were instructed about concepts and ideas they’ll need to be aware of when they’re in business for themselves. And they observed activities and work in progress, all the while taking pages and pages of notes.

“They’ve had the opportunity to partner with different people each week,” said Homan, “getting a perspective from various individuals in the organization.”

Unlike in some organizations, where an internship means baptism by fire, the Aetna experience was purposely designed to stop short of job training and client work.

“We didn’t get into the actual job training,” said Grey Bear. “Oh no, there’s a lot to do when you’re actually on the phone, a call, helping people. There’s a lot more training in that.”

Who Benefits?
“Our intent is to develop individuals who might potentially want to work at Aetna,” said Homan. “It’s always a plus to have had this experience.”

Homen rated both Grey Bear and Addison as “very attentive and interactive” throughout, and very pleasant and respectful. In every instance the feedback was positive from those who they came in contact with. “It’s been a delight to have them here with us,” she said.

“I’ve had a good experience here,” said Grey Bear, who graduated May 4 with an Associate Degree in Small Business Management. “What I’ve learned is that your customer is like your boss. You treat them with respect and care. You can’t turn them away and say, ‘I don’t know.’ You really have to go the extra mile.”

A good thing to learn in any business.

Grey Bear is continuing her business training at UTTC and will graduate in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.

“I kinda don’t want to go home,” said Addison. “I learned this is a really good business. They’re highly focused on their surroundings and working well together and supporting one another. I like their set up and how they’re part of the community. I learned about their benefits package. It’s a very good one.”

Addison earned a Certificate in Business at the UTTC graduation May 4 and will graduate with an Associate Degree in December. She hopes to continue on for a Bachelor’s Degree but says she is somewhat undecided about what to do with the opportunities uncovered by her new experiences at UTTC and Aetna.

At present, Aetna participates in internships in Bismarck only with United Tribes. For students like Laura and Andrea who did so well, the next step would be toward a more advanced relationship involving a hiring. Under discussion now in the company is an evaluation of how well the program worked.

More Info about the United Tribes Small Business Management Internship Program: Jeff Moser 701-255-3285 x 1443, jmoser@uttc.edu