HSU students “Connect” with local business

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Kelly Stiles, Editor in Chief

Local business South Central Electric Cooperative celebrates their 80th anniversary.

Kelly Stiles, Editor in Chief

The song “Galveston” by Glen Campbell and the smell of freshly-popped popcorn filled the warm air as drivers-by smiled and waved. In celebration of their 80th anniversary, South Central Electric Cooperative and their 3-year-old partner fiber internet company South Central Connect hosted a COVID-19-safe drive-thru celebration on Sept. 15.

 

“We want to bring quality-of-life to our community,” network engineering manager Robert Green said.

 

Customers drove around the companies’ headquarters as employees greeted and passed out logoed hats and cups as well as popcorn, snow cones, and cotton candy. Among these employees were two Henderson State University junior computer science majors participating in this unique part of their internship.

 

“I’m a Henderson alumni,” South Central Connect broadband manager Marty Allen said. “I want to give students real world experience.”

 

SCC broadband manager Marty Allen is excited for his business and alma mater to collide. (Kelly Stiles)

Allen once worked at Entergy’s Arkansas Nuclear One double unit power plant in Russellville, Ark. where computer science students from Arkansas Tech University were given internships. The internship provided the power plant workers with needed assistance, and each intern found a successful job afterwards. Some interns were even offered jobs at Arkansas Nuclear One.

 

Striving to create a similar experience for SCC, Allen contacted Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University. Since HSU responded first, Allen allowed director of computer science at HSU Jimmie Harper to provide SCC with applicants.

 

“Working with students is my favorite part of my job,” Harper said.

 

Director of computer science Jimmie Harper enjoys an experience to help students while connecting with an old friend. (Jimmie Harper)

As a mentor who facilitates computer science internships, professor Harper informed interested students of the opportunity. Five of these students applied to fill the two available positions. Having taught at Henderson for 33 years Harper enjoys facilitating internships as he is able to stay in contact with people working in the computer science industry and keep up-to-date on what he should be teaching his students. The professor was elated to hear from Allen who he had attended Henderson with.

 

“I love Henderson’s computer science program,” SCC intern Madison Rushing said. “Every teacher knows you by name.”

 

Junior computer science major Madison Rushing is excited to start an internship that will steer her toward her future career. (Madison Rushing)

From childhood, Rushing has been influenced by someone she admires. Her parents’ friend who she lovingly refers to as “Uncle Steve” steered her toward computer science by the way he would excitedly discuss his career in cyber security. 

 

“The team has made me feel very welcome,” SCC intern Phillip Heck said.

 

Junior computer science major Phillip Heck joins the South Central Connect crew as an intern. (Phillip Heck)

Growing up, Heck continuously found himself taking objects apart to figure out how they worked. As his brother influenced him to play video games, the young man desired to build his own computer to game on. Upon building his first computer, Heck loved it and has not turned back since.

 

“It was unlike any interview I have had,” Heck said. “[The staff] felt like a family.”

 

During interviews, several members of the South Central Connect team were involved so the applicant could feel a sense of the family-oriented mindset that the small company strives for. The SCC team analyzed each student’s technical capabilities, professionalism, and people skills. It is more important to Green to have employees who work well with other team members and customers than who have someone with technical skills. One can be taught how to complete technical tasks, but soft skills are hard to instill in others. 

 

“This is the first time I wanted to hire 100% of the applicants,” Green said.

 

SCC network engineering manager Robert Green looks ahead as he aids the future generation of computer science majors. (Kelly Stiles)

Having two available positions and five perfect fits did not make the internship hiring process easy. However, Allen and Green felt good knowing that all applicants obtained experience going through a job interview in their field of study. They hope to possibly hire the other applicants for a future internship as this partnership between SCC and HSU continues.

 

“I expect the program to grow,” Allen said.

 

This paid internship will allow Heck and Rushing to have hands-on experience regarding varying facets of South Central Connect while gaining college hours. They will complete tasks involving software development, coding, hardware provisioning, troubleshooting, inventory, work management, and interfacing with customers and other organizations.

 

“They will learn basically every aspect you can think of,” Green said.

 

While students are gaining valuable exposure, this internship allows South Central Connect to receive valuable assistance. These interns will complete tasks that relieve stress from other workers, creating a better work environment. Also, SCC can assess what is being taught now in colleges to prepare proper training for new employees.

 

“We are a small company with two universities nearby,” Allen said. “We can both benefit.”

 

As a young start-up company, Allen and Green point out that there is potential to hire interns as full-time employees in the future. Someone who already knows how the company runs could be a beneficial asset.

 

“They have something to put on their resume other than stuff they learned out of a book,” Allen said.

 

Through the course of the internship, Rushing and Heck will complete summaries of their time at SCC. In addition, SCC will evaluate the students’ performances on the job, and in return, the students will evaluate the work the company provided.