Fenway Group-U of I partnership gives Vandals IT experience, job prospects
Kyle Tolliver is a skilled computer programmer. He’s an even better career coach.
He learned the latter as a technical lead for Fenway Group, a firm that hires students as associate consultants to develop immediate information technology (IT) solutions for their clients and mentors them to get hired full time after they graduate.
Tolliver, who now coaches at the University of Idaho, was part of the first group of Fenway student consultants at Louisiana Tech in 2012. He originally wanted to be a computer programmer. Then he found the Fenway program.
“When I left the program, I wanted to give back,” Tolliver said. “I had this opportunity to accelerate my career, and a lot of that was thanks to my coach. My goal shifted from being a programmer to helping people be what they want to be in their career.”
Fenway opened a center at U of I in February 2018. The center already employs 18 students, with plans to more than double in size.
Fenway’s clients include businesses like Starbucks, CenturyLink, Southwest, Verizon and Kraft. Fenway specializes in serving immediate business needs while giving students the skills and experience they need to get hired by those companies. The process creates a pipeline for the next generation of IT talent.
Fenway looks for students who love technology and want to learn more. They’ve hired math and political science students without any programming experience, as well as students who work with computers as a hobby who didn’t realize they could make it their career.
Tolliver isn’t the only one whose goals changed after going through the program. U of I seniors Jackson Taylor and John Ipsen were looking for internships when they ran into Tolliver at a job fair. The ease of working during school and getting industry experience and knowledge spurred them to apply.
Ipsen, originally from Bear Lake, is working on a management information systems degree. His after-graduation plans have changed since he started with Fenway.
“Before I started here, I would answer differently. But now that I’m here, I want to continue down this path,” Ipsen said. “As a management information systems student, there’s the business side, but this has exposed me to the development side, and that’s where I want to go in my career.”
We’re doing live demos, we’re working with the clients, we’re pitching ideas, which I’m normally shy about.John Ipsen, student employee of Fenway Group
Taylor is a computer science major and Lewiston native who already has one undergraduate degree in biochemistry from U of I. He's interested in doing full-stack software development — working on databases and accounts on the back end through data routes and appearance on the front. U of I doesn’t offer full-stack development courses, but Fenway does.
One of Ipsen and Taylor’s first projects was creating a scheduling app for Fenway Group to get familiar with the software before doing a similar project for another client.
“Someone once told me you learn 90 percent of the job in your first month, and I’ve had a similar experience here,” Ipsen said. “I had a base knowledge, but I’ve really excelled my skills and knowledge working here.”
In addition to technical skills, the Fenway program helps students develop general professional skills and collaborate as a team.
“We’re doing live demos, we’re working with the clients, we’re pitching ideas, which I’m normally shy about,” Ipsen said.
Students typically commit to 18-24 months with Fenway, although they’re welcome to stay longer — especially if they start working as freshmen. They gain experience working on business-critical IT applications, building them with assistance from their mentors and communicating directly with industry professionals.
Leaders from both U of I and Fenway Group agreed the university would be a good fit for a new Fenway center when College of Business and Economics Dean Marc Chopin first heard about the firm’s unique business model.
“They recognize that the most valuable asset they have is their people, and they demonstrate that by their willingness to invest in their continuing development,” Chopin said.
After completing the program, students are hired by the company for which they've worked as consultants, hired by Fenway as coaches for future teams of students or go on to whatever job inspires them. No matter what, students know they’re going to get a job in their chosen career.
“At the end of the day, the students are being employed in their area of expertise or training while they're pursuing their degrees, making an income that is higher than they may otherwise expect, and pursuing a direct path to employment following graduation,” Chopin said. “What's not to love?”
Because the center is on the Moscow campus, consultants can come in between classes or schedule classes around their Fenway work schedule.
“You really will get a ton of great experience,” Taylor said.
Fenway would eventually like to have 200 students at the Moscow center. As the program grows, Fenway Vandal alumni will come in to train the next teams.
“At the end of the day, our goal is helping people get jobs and giving back to the community,” Tolliver said.
Article by Emily Bailes, College of Business & Economics
Published in the fall 2018 issue of Here We Have Idaho.