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Stepping it up: InStep and the virtual experience

Kisha Gupta, Head of Global Academic Relations at Infosys talks about how InStep came about, and what has led to the digitization of the program

Highlights

  • InStep seeks to bring together youngsters from across the world and harness the power of students
  • Following the impact of Covid-19, team InStep worked to ensure that almost everything that the students would experience in a physical internship would be carried forward in the digital space as well.
  • “Everything from networking, to project mentor relationships, to hackathons, leadership talks, (and) the entire project work, everything is being moved a virtual platform,” says Kisha Gupta, Head of Global Academic Relations at Infosys

In the year 2019, Marijn Elisa Biekart, a student of University of Amsterdam, was looking for interesting opportunities for her summer internship. Her ask? She just wanted an experience of working with a big company. On the other hand, Edson Aguiar Zandamela of Trinity College, Hartford, had a much clearer set of goals when he started looking for internship opportunities - career exploration, skill development, and personal growth.

A year later, Marijn recalls the summer of her internship. “It’s safe to say that it has been one of the best Summers of my life,” she says.

Like Marijn, and Edson, every year, thousands of students look out for opportunities of learning and experiences in the form of internships, and many a times these corporate internships take them around the world!

Amongst these international opportunities, InStep delivers an experience that seeks to bring together youngsters from across the world and harness the power of students. Kisha Gupta, Head of Global Academic Relations at Infosys, believes that their ability to solve problems comes from different senses. “And that’s a magnificent power to have,” she says.

Another thing that happens with InStep, says Gupta, is when students from different countries and different backgrounds are brought together.

“Each person brings a different perspective to the table. And that’s hugely valuable.”

Today InStep, Infosys’ flagship global internship program, boasts of having mentored thousands of interns from 200 universities, across more than 50 countries.

Building on different cultural perspectives

InStep started in the year 1999, when Infosys founder, Mr. N R Narayana Murthy, launched this global initiative for young students from different geographies, and cultures to interact with each other.

The program started with just 14 positions and 300 applications from across prestigious universities such as Harvard and Oxford. That number has multiplied several times over, and today, Instep selects more than 180 students globally, from thousands of applications, and from varied cultural and educational backgrounds.

The coming together of varied perspectives has been one of the key attributes of InStep. Biekart says being a part of InStep helped her gain more than confidence, on both personal and professional fronts. “For me the best part was meeting people from all over the world, and learning a lot from each other,” she says.

Similarly, Kota Furuhata, from Carnegie Mellon University, also learnt a lot from spending time with people from other parts of the world.

But how does it come together?

Gupta says it’s like putting the youngsters in a unique environment, and letting them figure their way around. She mentions an example of Adam Smiarowski, from the Centrale Supelec (Supelec at the time) in France, who came in the year 2014. While he was confused and reticent at the beginning of the program, he gradually figured his way around, and discovered new ways of working, and the results were for everyone to see.

“His work led to a publication… a huge, huge success,” says Gupta. This was one of the many examples where interns were not only successful, but contributed a great deal to the internship program.

Success, and the growth curve

Over the years, InStep has consistently incorporated learnings and has evolved as a program.

One of things InStep started doing very early on, Gupta says, is that giving students the power of choice. “The students decide what they would like to do over their internship. Something that fits their ideas, their aspirations, their dreams,” she says, adding that it also expands the horizons of learning for the students.

A good example is Michelle Duffner from WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, who says she learnt about how technology and business are interconnected. “I also got to work on Artificial Intelligence with some technical engineers. For me as a business student, this was super exciting,” says Duffner. Similarly, Imane Bounana from Trinity College wanted to further explore her interests in marketing, in a different environment, and at a different level, which she says she got to do with InStep.

Another realization in the early years of the program was that the wider the perspectives, the better the learning.

In the initial years, InStep would only bring on board students from the geographies where Infosys had a business presence. “That was restraining our ability to collect all possible perspectives. So, we went out and partnered with the top universities all over the globe,” says Gupta.

She also notes that gradually the company started absorbing students from the internship program for full-time roles.

All this has been possible with the partnerships that InStep has built over the years with numerous universities, that promote the program among their students, and share regular feedback, and career intelligence platforms, such as Vault, that have been instrumental in giving inputs to help the program grow.

“The way Vault helped us understand the nitty-gritty of the feedback, the nuances, how to understand the full potential of an internship, has really helped us,” says Gupta.

Today, InStep has been ranked the top internship in the world by Vault, for two consecutive years now.

Adapting to the new normal

Fast forward to 2020 and a few selected interns for the year had their bags packed to be part of an experience in a different country, that would offer unique learnings and prospects. As was the team at InStep, that was getting ready to welcome more than 180 students, from across 18 countries.

And then, there was COVID-19.

As countries across the world were finding their bearings around an environment that has affected almost everyone, as early as February, 2020, the team at InStep quickly took a decision. That of taking the internship to a virtual platform.

The team is also working to ensure that almost everything that the students would experience in a physical internship would be carried forward in the digital space as well.

“Everything from networking, to project mentor relationships, to hackathons, leadership talks, (and) the entire project work, everything is being moved a virtual platform,” says Gupta, adding that the team is constantly looking for ways to make the experience better for the students.

Students like Western Bonime, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who were looking forward to their visit to India, have swiftly adapted to the digital ecosystem, understanding the environment, despite expressing that they’ll surely miss the experience in person.

As the world adopts to the new normal, students such as Ioana Drilea from the University of Twente, and several more like her, are excited to experience the best internship program in the world - this time in its digital avatar.

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