For the last five years, Amy Hale has been director of university relations for online giant America Online (TWX), based in Dulles, Va. In that time, her operation has grown to include numerous student- and faculty-driven consulting projects and an innovative training program for finding talented MBAs, some of whom are then recruited for full-time positions.
Before arriving at AOL, Hale managed a $25 million federal environmental education grant program. She has served as both a faculty member and assistant dean at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va. She says AOL's pioneering culture makes it a wonderful workplace for innovators. Hale recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Francesca Di Meglio. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:
Q: What are the most interesting programs that you offer?
A: The programs that are of the most interest to MBAs are the Partnerships in Excellence Program (PEP), which includes student consulting projects, and Project Infusion, a training program that brings in faculty-nominated MBAs as AOL employees.
About 350 students will participate in PEP in spring 2005. One of the first PEP projects was AOL International. There were five teams and each was assigned a country or region -- Britain, Japan, Latin America, France, and Germany. Those teams did a marketing plan and extensive analyses for each culture. There were three or four faculty [members] grading students on each element of their presentation.
We piloted Project Infusion just last year. We solicit nominations for MBA graduates from the faculty with whom we've worked. We do an extensive review of the nominated candidates and interview everyone at least by phone. Those 20 or so graduates who are hired come into a semi-structured 12-month to 18-month experience to guide them through their initiation to AOL.
They all have a manager, sponsor, and mentor. They do a lot of shadowing, and we have a speaker series for them. They travel together and become a cohesive group. They really have access to more resources than almost any other employee in the company. The jobs are permanent positions, and they are assured of this, unless there is some dramatic failure.
Q: What was the motivation behind developing these programs?
A: The executives in their wisdom said, "There's a lot we can learn from students and faculty, and we need to capitalize on that. The only way to do it is to build solid relationships with universities."
Q: Do students get hired after doing these projects?
A: Last year, about 10% of the students who had worked on university relations projects were hired by AOL. Our first initiative was to really challenge the students and see what we could learn from them. It didn't take long for us to figure out that we were getting a better view of how students perform, research, think, speak to executives, and demonstrate teamwork.
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