Unique Internship Gives Students Wings
Unique Internship Gives Students Wings

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor


As part of a collaborative internship program that links United Airlines with UNH’s Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, groups of interns have had the opportunity to travel around the world.

Below is an excerpt of the cover story about the program that appeared in the winter 2014 issue of the alumni magazine.

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UNH students on the tarmac at Portland International Airport

They stood at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with majestic Mt. Rainier in the distance, a group of college students on their smartphones and tablets.

To the untrained eye, Britta Johnson ’15, Harrison Walker ’16, Chris Pariso ’15 and Justin Giordano ’14 M.S. might have looked like they were texting or checking Facebook, but they actually were geo-tracking the longitude and latitude of each United Airlines (UA) gate, the cargo area, even the employee workroom, just as they had back at Chicago O’Hare and Portland International Airport. They moved from gate to gate on the tarmac, dressed in bright yellow vests.

As part of a collaborative internship program that links United Airlines with UNH’s Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, the interns travel around the world – to Tokyo, Frankfurt, Paris, Guam, Las Vegas, Denver and Honolulu – to gather data about workforce injuries and damages incurred by airplanes at the gates as well as airplane delays.

For a month, John Hitzeman, director of the Lee College’s Center for Analytics, had trained them on sophisticated software called Tableau. Like the two sets of interns who came before them, the students worked together cleaning, organizing and building the data once they returned to campus.

They created a pictograph of the human body and a dashboard that illustrated United’s concourses in Seattle and Portland. Suddenly, the data they were collecting constituted more than just an Excel chart with a series of numbers and column headings.

The data began telling stories.

It told the story of a sprained ankle, a torn shoulder ligament and other injuries the human body incurs when it lifts, corrals, pushes and pulls one to two tons of travelers’ luggage every day. With the touch of a screen, UA employees would be able to see just how many knee injuries were sustained at, say, Gate 18, at what time of day and in what kind of weather. They could make note of problematic corners at gates and identify the places on the tarmac or in the baggage handling operation where more workplace injuries were occurring. They could see what injuries caused workers to miss the most time.

Their data told the story, too, of the world’s largest airline striving to improve workplace safety for its 85,000 employees, a project spearheaded by a UNH alumnus who wanted to provide tremendous opportunities to students at the University, similar to the ones that shaped his life.

“When someone gets hurt at work, it affects many aspects of their life,” said Michael Quiello ’74, United Airlines’ vice president of corporate safety. “Most importantly, their family loses time with them. They can’t go on vacation, can’t pass a football with the kids. They can’t do a lot of things. That lost time at the company also adds up. This UNH project has a great impact on our financial numbers, but that’s secondary to what we’re really trying to do: keep our workforce healthy so they go home the same way they come to work.

“The biggest outcome of this project so far is helping us understand where injuries are occurring, looking for clusters just as you would accidents on a highway,” Quiello continued. “You see a bunch of accidents at this curve on the road, and maybe it’s time to redesign the curve.”

Other stories unfolded before the students’ eyes. They began to see what a future working life could be and how dedication, a singleminded purpose and collaborative teamwork can lead to great reward. They met and worked with ramp-service employees, security teams, high-level executives, a rocket scientist and even the United CEO.

The students discovered that business travel meant rising early, getting the rest of their lives in order before taking off, keeping up with coursework and putting in very long days on the road.
But it also meant having the chance to explore Pike Place Market in Seattle, with its farm-market-fresh fare, or to take in the grand sweep of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Highly Coveted Internship

A Chronicle of Higher Education survey taken last year found that employers valued internship experience above all other factors when hiring new college graduates. This one, says Lee College Dean Mario Gaboury, offers extraordinary opportunities to the students involved. “It is a highly coveted internship,” he said.

At a university where experiential learning lies at the very core of its values and mission, the United Airlines partnership reflects the best of what an internship can be.

“We provide the students an opportunity to apply their skills in the real world, and United benefits with a new approach to applying a new technology,” said J.J. DeGiovanni, United’s managing director of ground safety, the rocket scientist who earlier worked as the director of safety and mission assurance on the Space Shuttle program. “This has been a win-win for everyone.” That fact is not lost on the interns. “When I first heard about it, I thought, is this actually real?” Britta Johnson said. “It is. And that’s so cool.”

“It’s awe-inspiring to feel like all this responsibility is on us,” added Harrison Walker, who aspires to be a police officer and eventually a federal agent. “United Airlines is a fantastic organization, providing this chance to college students and giving us a huge step up on our competition. The University of New Haven went above and beyond to set up this connection. They take the idea of experiential education to an entirely new level. The traveling is amazing. I’d never been to the West Coast before.”

Chris Pariso recalled flying in from Portland to Seattle. “There was very thick fog cover, but the plane flew out over it into these stunning blue skies,” he said. “It looked like a snowy field down below us, and then Mt. Rainier peaked out above the cloud line. That was a sight. It really changes your perspective.”

Read the rest of the cover story and check out the winter 2014 issue of the alumni magazine.

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