Youthful Creativity + Experienced Project Managers = Unique Solutions

At Rose-Hulman Ventures, we drive value for our clients by providing solutions to engineering problems across a wide range of disciplines and domains. Surprisingly, we accomplish this while placing Rose-Hulman students in key roles for project success. While our project management staff serve as captains of the ship, so to speak, it is our interns that adjust the riggings and unfurl the mainsail. As students, these interns have only just begun their engineering careers, and are likely to lack the first-hand experience or knowledge that you’d expect from a seasoned, graduate engineer. And yet, it is the students that create designs, write code, interact with clients, and in general drive RHV projects to successful completion.

How is this possible? The answer is three-fold:

  1. Experienced leadership and oversight from our project management and technician staff
  2. Highly motivated RHV students who are keen to learn professional engineering practice
  3. A model for quick-starting interns on professional projects, that works

Point 3 is the secret sauce. Let’s take a closer look:

RHV interns begin as RHIT undergraduate students, sometimes with no prior internship experience. When first joining a project, an RHV intern probably won’t know much about our client’s industry: it’s rare to find an intern with a history in worker’s compensation law, extrusion parts manufacturing, or modelling kidney function! We recognize interns won’t immediately understand all the nuances of the client’s industry but it’s important that they be excited at the prospect of driving value immediately and not after weeks of training.

So we adopt an approach that forces full immersion into the project - throw the intern in head-first to see if they sink or swim! The goal, of course, is to swim – the intern should feel overwhelmed but not too overwhelmed. This is where the project manager’s guidance is critical.  A manager oversees the projects and directs the interns down the path of greatest reward and learning while minimizing risk, and the intern is driven by motivation and results. To understand the details, let’s consider an example:

Meet James Gibson, a sophomore RHIT Computer Science major and intern on the S&C Worker’s Compensation project. James joined the project as the sole software engineer, and is tasked with maintaining and improving a website that automates calculations for worker’s compensations claims in the states of Illinois and Indiana. Not only does this require learning the ins and outs of an unfamiliar codebase, but he has to overcome a different, surprisingly nontechnical challenge: he has to learn Illinois and Indiana worker’s compensation law.

For instance, for the calculator to compute the compensation for an injury, James first had to understand how the laws relate to specific injury details.  Ever heard of “Permanent Partial Impairment”?  Do you know what the legal implications of “loss of use” are?  How about the details of a “Second Injury Fund?”  And do you understand how all these things impact the calculations?  James does!

Gorey details notwithstanding, James gained that knowledge by immersing himself in the subject, and that’s not always as easy as simply looking something up in the handbook! “The legal worker’s compensation handbooks can be ambiguous,” James says. “The handbook is great for general info, but for specific cases, you have to consult the law code directly. Sometimes we have to ask the client for legal definitions and to learn why the details matter,” he adds.

James remembers when he first joined the project: “I’d never built a professional website before, and I didn’t know anything about worker’s compensation law. The first week was overwhelming, but as I looked through the code and spoke to my manager, I started learning the terminology and how to translate the legal statutes.” James was thrust head-first into the problem, and had to solve it. He had a deadline to reach and no time for certainty, only good heuristics and a method for professional learning.

Since that first day, James has been hard at work on a major revision of the calculator. To be prepared for this, he was initially handed small, bite-sized tasks by his manager. He then slowly warmed up with increasingly more complex tasks. The manager stepped in when he hit a roadblock, but got out of the way when James hit his stride. “I realized I couldn’t wait until I understood all of worker’s compensation law; I had to trust our client’s legal background and skim knowledge off the top where I could,” says James.

And that is how Rose-Hulman Ventures provides a big impact from a tiny package: we emphasize productivity and project success, while also providing a robust support system.