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Automotive internships lead to successful careers

October 20, 2016

KOKOMO, Ind. — An internship program created by Indiana University Kokomo and FCA US LLC gave Joby Renbarger a foot in the door for a career in the automotive industry.

Recently promoted to business planner in the engineering group, Renbarger, B.S. ’14, was among the first group selected for the prestigious internship program, during summer 2013. Since then, 45 students have served as interns in the company’s Kokomo’s plants, performing jobs that include creating databases, preparing executive leadership development programs, developing marketing plans, producing training videos, and working in production.

“There’s no way I would be working in the position I am in now without my internship,” said Renbarger, from Greentown. “I’ve had an incredible career so far. The internship helped me get where I am now.”

Chrysler interns

Interns discuss the manufacturing process at Chrysler.

A similar internship was how Bob Varsanik began his career with the company 30 years ago. Through several changes in ownership and some difficult circumstances, he stayed with the company now known as FCA US and moved up the ranks, currently serving as general manager of the powertrain transmission, casting, and components division.

“I enjoy seeing our interns who want to get into manufacturing,” he said. “This company is a great place to work, and they have an awesome opportunity with their IU Kokomo degrees and five manufacturing plants in Kokomo. With this experience, they’re going to have résumés that will blow people away.”

Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke said the internship program offers IU Kokomo’s resources to FCA US, while assisting students.

“I am proud of this partnership, and the opportunities it provides to our students,” she said. “They are receiving invaluable real world training, while using the skills gained on our campus to benefit FCA.”

The students gain skills that will serve them well whether their goal is to work in the automotive industry or in other areas.

Mary Olk’s internship was a highlight on her résumé when she completed her master’s degree and began looking for a job in higher education.

“The internship at FCA US provided me with a solid foundation for entering the workforce, regardless of the path I was on,” said Olk, B.S. ’13. “It gave me experience and context for how to work with seasoned professionals, how to build trust and rapport with colleagues, collaborate on important projects, and conduct myself in a new, professional environment.”

A communications art graduate, Olk and another intern built training modules for FCA US executives and team leaders, focusing on personal and professional leadership styles, and created rubrics to help leaders prepare audit presentations.

She uses that experience in her current career, as director of campus engagement at Doane University in Crete, Nebraska.

“I work to help students develop as people and future professionals,” she said. “The modules I built for FCA US executives are the same kinds of modules I give to student leaders if they need a refresher course in some leadership topics, or if they need to reflect in order to grow and improve.”

“Internships at FCA US provide students with real work experiences,” said Tracy Springer, manager of career services. “Students who have participated learn teamwork, communication, leadership, and management. They get the opportunity to work in a diverse work environment, and they contribute to the success of the company.”

Renbarger’s first internship involved working with another student to create a database for engineers’ reports. After completing that project successfully, he was offered a second internship at the company’s corporate headquarters, in Auburn Hills, Michigan, to work on another database project.

He appreciated the opportunity not only to gain job experience, but also to have a paid internship, which helped with his tuition while he was in school.

A month after his August 2014 graduation, he was offered a full time job as a supervisor with the company, which led to his recent promotion.

“The internships are one of the main reasons I have the position I have now,” he said. “My supervisor knows that I am qualified, and can do what he needs me to do. I wouldn’t have even met him if I hadn’t been an intern.”

Renbarger said the work is hard, but fulfilling, and he encouraged other students to apply for the program.

“It’s a journey, but the benefits and rewards are just incredible,” he said.

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 10/20/2016