Badgers and JR Central celebrate 20 years of high-speed internships

It’s the most competitive, most sought after international internship offered by the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The JR Central Internship Program, established by Distinguished UW Alum and JR Central Chairman Emeritus Yoshiyuki Kasai, has been offering Badgers professional experiences in the cutting-edge field of high-speed transportation since 2000. To date, 49 Badgers have participated, learning about all aspects of JR Central from marketing and administration to research and engineering.

Students often apply multiple times and begin inquiring years in advance for a chance to obtain one of 2–3 coveted spots each year. Once you understand the internship, it isn’t hard to understand why.

Participants take on a learning and consulting role, getting a rare, behind-the-scenes look at all aspects of JR Central, which is often acknowledged as the model for high-speed transportation around the globe. The broad view of JR Central’s operations appeals to a wide variety of students looking to launch their own careers. JR Central also provides participants with in-country transportation, lodging, and a stipend for the duration of their experience.

Bradley Biel ’05 (international relations and French) delayed his graduation so that he would be eligible to participate.

“It was such an incredible opportunity—to be able to go and assess every aspect of their business,” said Biel, now a program manager for Zume. “Taking a consultant approach throughout the program made me realize all that goes into making the trains run. It taught me to be very strategic.”

To celebrate the 20-year milestone of the program, JR Central hosted a presentation on campus that included lectures and panel discussions on the future of high-speed rail transportation and projects in Texas and between New York City and Washington, D.C. Presenters included representatives from JR Central, the Northeast Maglev, the High-Speed-Railway Technology Consulting Corporation, and members of the Wisconsin High Speed Transportation Group student organizations.

Badger alumni gather with faculty, staff, and high-speed rail representatives for a celebration of the JR Central Internship Program.

The gathering concluded with a celebration that attracted over 30 Badgers representing almost every year of the program, as well as Texas A&M University participants, who were also invited to the event.

Dean Guido Podesta presents Masahiro Nakayama, general manager of the JR office in Washington, D.C. , with a memento to commemorate the anniversary of the internship program.

“UW–Madison is proud to celebrate this important partnership and the incredible efforts of the JR staff who continue to make these experiences possible,” said UW–Madison International Division Vice Provost Guido Podestá. “The impact of the program is undeniable. We need only look at the alumni in attendance today, who show just as much excitement whether they participated last year or 20 years ago.”

Alumni who attended spoke highly of the internship program and how it impacted their own paths.

Pojen Suhendra ’02 (marketing and operations) participated in the first cohort of the program. Suhendra called international internships “one of the best things you could put on your resume,” noting that they add professional skills and experience and also demonstrate willingness to be put in new situations and thrive.

Now director of procurement for Apple, Suhendra continues to look back at the program as a formative experience.

“The project that I did in addition to the JR program was part of an operations class,” Suhendra said. “I studied JR’s scheduling method because they have one of the most sophisticated scheduling methods in the world. Now I am in operations, so I still use a bit of what I originally learned in what I do today.”

Tana Johnson ’01 (international relations and East Asian studies) also participated in the first cohort. Johnson, who is now an associate professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, found that the internship program allowed her to explore her academic interests through a new lens.

“I’ve always been a person who is interested in the government side as well as the business side of international policy,” Johnson said. “My studies at UW looked at economics, politics, and business. During the JR internship program, I was especially interested in how JR had been privatized. In my current role, I am very much in the government side of public policy. My studies at UW, my internship in Tokyo, and my career now blend those things together.”

Students interested in the JR Central Internship program and other professional development internship programs offered worldwide can learn more through UW–Madison’s International Internship Program.