UW-Madison and Plexus Partner to Offer International Engineering Internship

MADISON – As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Jeff Schacherl initially focused on his chosen field of mechanical engineering. Then a one-month study abroad trip to Nancy, France, stirred Schacherl’s interest in international experiences. That led to an internship at Plexus’ Penang, Malaysia Design Center – and ultimately a career for the 2009 graduate at the company’s Design Center located in Neenah, Wisconsin.

“An internship is really like a three- to six-month job interview,” says Schacherl. “I was able to get to know Plexus and understand the company culture, and they got to know me.”

Through internships, like Schacherl’s experience with Plexus, Wisconsin companies and the UW-Madison’s Division of International Studies can join forces to cultivate the global talent that so many companies need today.  Internships also offer opportunities to earn academic credits.

For Schacherl, a native of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin spending time in France and taking French courses at UW-Madison sparked an interest in international opportunities and contributed to his willingness to consider an internship in a distant – and, for him, unknown – place like Penang.

“Languages open doors, they make you more culturally sensitive and a better communicator,” he says. International experience provides a strong career boost, because, as Schacherl stresses, “Companies aren’t going global; they are global.”

Plexus is among a growing number of Wisconsin-based companies offering international internships to help recruit and develop global talent. Unique within the electronic manufacturing services industry, the company has delivered optimized Product Realization solutions through a customer-focused service model since 1979. This service model seamlessly integrates product conceptualization, design, commercialization, manufacturing, fulfillment and sustaining services to deliver comprehensive end-to-end solutions to customers in the Americas, Europe, and Asia Pacific region.

Todd Kelsey, Executive Vice President – Global Customer Services, is a UW–Madison alumnus and has worked closely on developing the Plexus international internship for UW–Madison students.

“Plexus is dedicated to supporting students with hands-on business experience in an international environment,” Kelsey says.  “We believe this provides opportunity to acquire skills that simply can’t be taught in a classroom. Teamwork and communication are among the most challenging but important skills in the globally connected business world. With six design centers and 19 manufacturing facilities around the world, we strive to create international opportunities for our employees and future employees, which help to drive our success and ability to expand into other regions to support our customers’ growing global needs.”

During his two-month summer internship in 2009, Schacherl worked with eight other mechanical engineers at a Design Center in Penang.

“This was an international project, run out of Neenah, to design a product,” he explains.  “We did a lot of video conferencing and had to deal with a 13-hour time difference.”

Now employed at Plexus’ Neenah Design Center, Schacherl continues to work with colleagues in Penang. He is hoping to transfer to the Plexus facility in Darmstadt, Germany.  To prepare, he is studying German.

Meanwhile, Plexus is set to take on another summer intern: UW–Madison undergraduate Daniel Lawler will begin training at the company’s Neenah Design Center May 30 and travel in early July to the Penang facility.

With an aim of finding more placements for students like Schacherl, UW–Madison launched its International Internship Program in March 2010 with funding through the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates.

Housed in the Division of International Studies, the program collaborates with a range of campus offices—including career services units and the Office of Corporate Relations—and private and non-profit organizations to identify, cultivate, and promote experiential learning opportunities for students of all academic disciplines.

“Wisconsin companies tell us that they are hungry for global talent, that they have an urgent need for professionals who have the global mindset, skills and experience necessary to work and live around the world and across cultures,” says Gilles Bousquet, dean of International Studies and vice provost for Globalization at UW–Madison. “It is critical for the university to collaborate with businesses to keep building this talent pipeline for Wisconsin students.”

The Plexus internship was among the program’s initial ten placements in 2010. For the summer of 2011, the number of placements has grown to nearly 50.  As it expands, the program continues to seek partnerships with Wisconsin companies and UW–Madison alumni with international connections. For more information, contact iip@international.wisc.edu.

As Schacherl learned, internships add luster to an academic degree: “As a student, you need to be a good learner who can pick up on things, but to really apply all the things you have learned, you need an internship.  You really need both sides of the equation.”

For more information, contact Kristine Rhode, Plexus corporate communications specialist, kristine.rhode@lexus.com, 920-720-6749; or Maj Fischer, managing director, International Internship Program, UW–Madison Division of International Studies, mhfischer@international.wisc.edu, 608-261-1359.