Alumnus-driven startup aids IST students seeking internship experiences

Emma Riglin and Jessica Hallman
July 20, 2020
Solve Tomorrow
IMAGE: Solve Tomorrow

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – When the novel coronavirus pandemic struck, and many College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) students faced challenges in securing summer internships due to public health guidelines, an IST alumnus rose to the occasion to help students get the experience they needed.

Shawn Thompson, who graduated with an information sciences and technology degree in 2016 and is employed as a program manager at Microsoft, founded a company called Solve Tomorrow with the goal of providing meaningful internship experiences to students seeking a career in the technology industry. With many opportunities diminished due to the pandemic, and since Thompson was familiar with the skills College of IST students bring to the workplace, he decided to pilot the first cohort solely with IST students to help them meet the college’s internship requirement. Forty-three IST students are participating in the virtual program this summer.

According to Thompson, Solve Tomorrow partners with universities and startup companies to provide real-world experiences to students and give unique value to startups.

“Solve Tomorrow gave me a chance to have an internship during a time when many other companies were not able to hold an internship,” said Jonah Albert, a rising sophomore pursuing a degree in cybersecurity analytics and operations. “It is keeping my programming skills sharp during a time of confusion and extended lockdowns.”

Through the 12-week program this summer, teams of students are working to solve problems that small startup companies face. Each student team is going through two design thinking sprints for two separate startups using frameworks learned in the IST classroom. Industry mentors from top tech companies have also been assigned to each team to coach and guide the students throughout the design thinking sprints. At the end of each sprint, student teams will pitch their solutions back to the startups.

“We strongly believe these students will create innovative solutions for the startups and they believe strongly in this as well,” said Thompson.

Bhavya Devarsu, a rising senior majoring in cybersecurity analytics and operations, said that her favorite part of Solve Tomorrow has been talking to industry experts and learning about what to expect once she enters the workforce. She said she is very grateful to have such a meaningful internship amid the pandemic.

“I feel very lucky to have found a great internship opportunity that allows me to work from home,” said Devarsu. “With everything that is going on with COVID-19, I am very thankful that I can still get great exposure to real world experiences through this internship online.”

Albert said that he enjoys the flexibility of the work he does for his Solve Tomorrow clients and that he’s getting experience with assignments he might have in his future career.

"My favorite part of Solve Tomorrow is the freedom they give us in designing our solution,” he said. “It’s all on us to ideate and create a solution for the problem at hand. We can get super technical, or very abstract.”

With stay-at-home orders causing some internships to be canceled or moved virtually, this collaboration is just one example of how IST alumni, faculty, staff, and corporate partners are developing creative opportunities to help students earn real-world experience. This includes offering alternative virtual pathways for students graduating in the coming semesters to fulfill the internship requirement, such as supporting faculty with research or participating in professional development courses.

"The College of IST firmly believes that the best option for an internship experience involves real-world engagement," said Brianne Lippert, assistant director of corporate engagement. "During this unprecedented time, as many students will not have the opportunity to leverage such an experience at its fullest, we are thankful to the many individuals and corporations that are providing our students with meaningful out-of-the-classroom experiences to help them to sharpen their skills in preparation for their careers.”

Thompson added, “I was an IST student. I empathize with them and understand that gaining real-world experience is extremely important. I really care about supporting students and helping them identify their career paths; that is the core mission Solve Tomorrow was founded on.”

While the primary focus of Solve Tomorrow is to provide meaningful real-world experience to students and help them learn about roles in tech, the opportunities would not be possible without the partnership of participating startups, said Thompson.

“We want students to go through our program feeling like they have the power to make a real impact on these startups, and gain the experience needed to guide them towards a career path they love,” he said.

Last Updated July 23, 2020