With its manicured green lawns and vine-covered brick walls, the suburban landscape of Rockleigh, N.J., has a true Ivy-League-campus feel. The idyllic surroundings are certainly apropos as the backdrop for Crestron Electronics’ long-running internship program, where students from around the nation are being introduced to the AV industry.
The 85-day Crestron internship program runs from late May to mid-August and brings together an elite group of students specializing in computer science, engineering, finance, human resources, information science, cybersecurity and marketing to garner hands-on experience. Even in the midst of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the program is alive and well, hosting 74 students from more than two dozen colleges and universities in 2020.
“The program has been in existence for 15 years in some form, and it continues to evolve,” says Chris Fitzpatrick, University Relations Manager at Crestron. In all, Crestron works with 35 or 36 colleges and universities, some local and some from outside the area. In 2020, the program includes students from Penn State, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Montclair State, Pace University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Stevens Institute of Technology, Rutgers, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Columbia, NYU and Georgia Tech.
This isn’t a typical internship program where students are packed away in some basement doing busy work like filing papers and getting coffee and donuts. The Crestron program is a paid internship that immerses the students in their particular field of interest, giving them actual hands-on experience in areas like product development and engineering, says Fitzpatrick. While most of the time is spent in their field of specialty, participants in the program are also combined into teams of seven or eight throughout the summer to complete a team challenge, which usually includes developing a new product or a workplace innovation idea.
“Interns want to expand their total skillset, be meaningful to the big-picture goals of the company and participate in cross-functional exercises so they can understand the importance of each area of Crestron. And that’s exactly what we provide,” says Fitzpatrick. “I tell the interns that I never want to hear them say that they are ‘just an intern,’ because they are much more than that. They really are making an impact here.”
In addition to working for a manager in his or her department, each intern is assigned a mentor who acts as a sounding board and assists them with training.
“If it is determined that a particular manager didn’t utilize the intern in a meaningful way, then next year that manager will likely not get an intern,” says Fitzpatrick bluntly.
The results of the program not only benefit Crestron, but the industry as a whole.
“We need a sustained talent pool for the industry. We need to establish career paths to help students become engaged with the AV industry and recognize it as a viable industry for them,” comments Fitzpatrick.
According to Fitzpatrick, “Crestron historically converted four to six interns to full-time employees after graduation, but the program has expanded. From May 2019 through May 2020, Crestron had 16 former interns earn full-time positions with the company.”
“We have complete buy-in on the program from senior leadership,” adds Fitzpatrick.
Social Responsibility, Team Interaction Are Key to Crestron Interns
For many of the interns, the AV industry is a big unknown at the outset. That was the case with Kaylie Shaffer, who has participated in the internship program for two years in a row before joining Crestron full-time as a Marketing Communications Specialist.
“I had never heard of Crestron before I applied for the internship,” she admits. “But seeing the case studies online really piqued my interest about the AV industry and the company.”
Like many Millennials and Gen Zers, Shaffer was also drawn to Crestron due to the various community service and social responsibility initiatives at the company, such as the Crestron Eagles Program that donates state-of-the-art home theaters to military hospitals.
Working in the marketing department, Shaffer gets to interact with multiple divisions within the company and see the different skillsets required. Moreover, the team project where the interns develop a product launch idea enables every intern to get a holistic view of Crestron.
“We are creating products for people to use every day in their real life, and that’s important,” she adds.
Coronavirus Forces Changes
For 2020, the pandemic forced Crestron to think outside of the box for the program.
“We had to figure out which internship roles could still be done remotely,” says Fitzpatrick, who determined that about 85% of the internship jobs could still be handled off-site. “About 10% of the roles are for hardware and testing engineers. Those interns were able to start out remotely but then have to be here in person about two days per week. Another 5% of the roles required the interns to be onsite all the time. We made sure that every individual was comfortable with that requirement. All interns who need to be on site are trained in our social distancing practices and must comply with other health and safety measures, including daily on-site temperature monitoring and wearing facial coverings. I am happy to say that we did not have a single internship get cancelled due to COVID-19.”
For the remote interns, the IT department put together the necessary equipment and shipped it out to them. A LinkedIn group was created to ease communication.
Fitzpatrick believes that the upheaval of 2020 will benefit the interns in the long run over their careers.
“The students in the program have already had to deal with tremendous changes in the workplace. They are witness as to how to deal with the challenges of this change. From this experience, I believe they will develop professional soft skills that they otherwise would not have had to develop so early in their professional careers,” he adds.