Last modified: Monday, November 22, 2004
Cook Inc. and IU develop innovative internship program
Effort places a strong value on life sciences
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- From the moment Indiana University student Christina Dunbar began her internship last summer at Cook Inc., she and others were met with projects that would have substantial and immediate impact upon the company's growth and success.
Dunbar, a Hudson-Holland Scholar from Indianapolis and an intern in Cook's Quality Assurance Lab, recalled, "I knew my job was vital. If unexpected bacteria infiltrated the manufacturing process, it could shut down that entire production area."
Fellow IU student Stacy Thompson, also from Indianapolis, responded to her challenges as well. The senior with a biology major used skills she learned at IU to make immediate contributions to Cook's marketing department.
Both were among seven IU students involved in a new partnership between IU and Cook, the world's largest privately owned manufacturer of medical devices, with headquarters in Bloomington. Sharing input from both IU and Cook leadership, Cook devised a program open to qualified IU students seeking practical employment opportunities in the life sciences.
Investing countless hours of research into best practices offered by other employers around the United States, Cook embarked on a mission to create a pioneering internship program that emphasizes diversity, professional growth and a unique opportunity to make a difference.
"The Cook internship is experiential learning at its best," said Patrick Donahue, director of the IU Career Development Center and Arts and Sciences Career Services. "The internship extended the classroom into the community by providing interns with projects and experiences that are normally reserved for full-time professionals, such as assisting in the launch of a new medical device onto the market or communicating with regulatory authorities in the Food and Drug Administration.
"The interns from Indiana University were assigned to attentive managers who not only worked with them on meaningful projects, but also served as mentors and taught the interns about the history and values of Cook," Donahue said.
After a highly competitive selection process, the seven IU interns were chosen from hundreds of applicants. Most had held multiple leadership positions in both school and community activities. Several were pursuing multiple majors with emphases in biology, pre-med and business. The interns also shared a common desire to gain an exciting, thought-provoking, hands-on internship experience with a company committed to patient care around the globe.
By placing a strong value on diversity, said Frank Motley, IU's associate vice chancellor for academic support and diversity, "the internship got everyone out of their comfort zone and into embracing change, embracing diversity and embracing challenges to the status quo."
One example of this was the capstone project at the completion of the 14-week program. Executives and officers from IU and other Cook Group companies joined mentors, staff and employees to observe and evaluate presentations by each intern. Facing this elite audience, students reported on their experiences at Cook, discussed projects and goals that were accomplished during the internship period, and offered suggestions and commentary on issues ranging from marketing strategies to hiring processes.
Displaying the expertise and knowledge they had developed while employed, the interns gave company and university officials the opportunity to see first-hand what kind of quality experiences the program had yielded.
Earl Knight, a student in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the GROUPS program from Muncie, interning in Regulatory Affairs, commented, "The capstone experience encompassed every skill I needed for my professional life. I have had a number of internship experiences, but this is the first time I have ever presented in front of the CEO and VPs of a company."
The level of involvement by Cook leadership stunned even those familiar with other, high-profile internship programs.
"What separates the Cook internship program from others is the direct involvement of senior leadership," Donahue said. "The president of Cook and company vice presidents regularly met with the interns to discuss the interns' projects and how they impacted the organization. The company devoted a tremendous amount of time, funding and leadership to ensure that the interns received one-of-a-kind training and professional development. Through their internship program, Cook has extended the classroom into the Bloomington community."
Perhaps most importantly, the summer internship program offered students the chance to grow and make a difference both to the organization and to those for whom they ultimately worked: Cook's patients.
"We were all impressed by the passion these interns brought to their jobs," said Kem Hawkins, president of Cook Group Inc. and its subsidiary Cook Inc. "They quickly grasped that every function within the company somehow touches patients who could be a brother, sister, Mom or Dad."
The students left Cook with a wealth of experience, their eyes set on a new schedule of classes and exams. However, with them went a sense of pride that their work had such a profound impact on so many people.
Seeking to improve upon its success in 2004, Cook officials recently announced plans to expand the program to other Cook Group companies in Indiana, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Likewise, internships are being created in additional departments. Never resting upon prior accomplishments, Cook looks forward to summer 2005, which will challenge a new group of talented students to reach beyond their comfort zone and work within a company committed to changing lives.
With international headquarters in Bloomington, Ind., privately held COOK® (http://www.cookgroup.com) is a leading developer, manufacturer and global distributor of minimally invasive medical device technology for diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.