Six first-generation college students who recently participated in the Travelers EDGE Venture Program learned the ABCs of working in corporate America: attitude, business sense and confidence - along with other basics needed to work for a Dow 30 company.
The pilot program that concluded in April was a unique collaboration among the Carlson School, Travelers Community Relations, and Travelers Enterprise Market Development. Targeted to first-generation college students enrolled at the Carlson School, the Travelers EDGE Venture Program is intended to expose first generation college students to the "real world" of business, where they learn everything from how to dress for success to how to confidently speak up in meetings. The pilot program was made possible through a grant awarded to the Carlson School by Travelers and by the involvement of Travelers Market Development and Human Resources representatives.
Mike Newman, director, Travelers Community Relations, was one of the early champions
of the initiative. "We wanted to build something that would prepare students for working in corporate America and raise their awareness of careers in our industry," he says.
A diverse group of six students were selected to participate in the 10-week program to research and think strategically about an emerging issue of importance to Travelers, all while developing valuable and transferable skills and learning about the insurance industry.
After attending a kick-off event at Travelers in February, the group immersed themselves in researching water scarcity in the United States - a topic that has been on Travelers Enterprise Market Development's radar for quite some time. "It's a topic that we knew almost as little about as the students did, so it was a great opportunity for them to be creative in their research and recommendations as to how we can prepare for the potential impact of water scarcity on our current and potential customers," says Veronika Torarp, director, Enterprise Market Development.
During the course of the project, the students visited Travelers once every other week to attend project meetings, listen to guest speakers, and learn more about insurance. To assist their professional development, each student was also assigned a mentor at Travelers to learn more about corporate life.
The team researched water usage, scarcity trends, and scenarios, and met with leaders in business units that may have the most potential to deal with this issue in the future. Those included Public Sector, Agribusiness, Technology, and Commercial Accounts. Together, the students and business unit leaders discussed findings, opportunities, and risks regarding water scarcity and how it might impact Travelers customers.
The project concluded with a final presentation delivered to a live audience at Travelers in St. Paul with additional participants in Hartford and New York dialed in via video conference. In their presentation, the students stressed that the demand for water is on the road to outstripping supply, and that many U.S. companies may struggle to find the water they need to run their businesses in the future. For example, in 2007, a drought forced the US Tennessee Valley Authority to reduce its hydropower generation by nearly a third. Some $300 million in power generation was lost. The students further stressed that, besides demand outstripping supply, water scarcity can also arise from the degradation of ground and surface water quality. In their conclusion, the team discussed how important it was for insurance companies to be knowledgeable about the issue and become trusted advisers to their insureds, all while monitoring the risk profiles related to water issues.
The Real Results
Although the project recommendations were an important part of the Travelers EDGE Venture Program, the real results came in the form of the students' positive experience and feedback.
"The most valuable thing about participating in the program at Travelers was the real corporate experience," says student Jennifer Schug. "I learned so much about business in general just by being immersed in corporate culture for 10 weeks. Getting that early exposure to what it's like to work at a company like Travelers is really a valuable experience."
Mitch Rigdon, another student involved in the project, agrees. "This opportunity has helped me immensely in preparing for a career after college. It has exposed me to a real-world business setting and allowed me to apply what I have learned through this experience, while at the same time learning from business professionals at both Travelers and the Carlson School," he says.
Mary Maus Kosir, Assistant Dean for the Undergraduate Program, also thought the program was successful. "Students worked together to boldly embrace a very difficult topic, research it, and then professionally put it all together in what was an amazing final presentation. The collaboration was incredible."
Three of the six students involved in the pilot initiative interviewed and were selected as interns with Travelers for this summer. Although this was not an expected result of their participation, Torarp said it is a great outcome of the program. "It was a really positive experience for the students and another way for us to provide opportunities to first-generation college students," she says.
Maus Kosir said she hopes to make innovative partnerships like the EDGE Ventures Program a part of the University's ongoing collaboration with Travelers. "They are a supportive partner of our students, their development and education, and their future," she said.
Launched in 2007, Travelers EDGE: Empowering Dreams for Graduation and Employment, was designed to remove barriers to college for underrepresented students and be a pipeline of diverse talent for the company. Travelers EDGE has 10 partnerships in St. Paul, Hartford, and Baltimore. To learn more about Travelers' EDGE initiatives, visit its website.