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Innovative's 11 Feted, Sure to Spawn Sequels

Aug. 8, 2008, — Innovative Communications celebrated the culmination of their 10-week internship and their inaugural class of 11 interns Friday at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort.
Cautioning against following his own career path, keynote speaker Hugo Hodge Jr., executive director of the V.I. Water and Power Authority, said he had quit college for a stint as a rap artist before returning to engineering.
"My road to here is like a stunt double's — 'Do not try this,'" Hodge said.
Hodge joked that he'd been strictly admonished not to try to recruit the interns, but said he'd brought WAPA's human resources director along anyway.
Innovative's program for the college students demands self-direction and teamwork and fosters both with individual and group tasks. The students are selected for their academic strengths and their involvement and leadership with college and other organizations.
The program grew out of a need for a succession plan for employees who will soon retire, said Byron Smyl, trustee for the company and managing director at Alvarez and Marsal, a San Francisco-based firm that concentrates on restructuring troubled companies.
"We looked around and asked 'Where are the young people?'" Smyl said. The company's goal was to become one of the territory's key employers and encourage young folks to stay on in the islands.
Ten of the 11 paid interns are from the territory.
"The Innovators," as the college students came to be called, individually performed challenging assignments across the company. As a group, they were tasked with developing and executing a community service project from inception through completion.
"They became a community unto themselves," Zenzile M. Hodge, vice president of human resources, said. "The experience wouldn't have been as robust if they couldn't have the opportunity to engage and interact as a group."
The interns' level of teamwork surprised their supervisors and mentors.
"They took this to a different extreme — the way they worked together was unexpected," Zenzile Hodge said of the group's cohesiveness. "They supported each other very well. They ordered themselves based on everyone's natural talents, they had an official spokesperson, they had set meetings and ran it like anyone would run a project."
Indeed, their community service project aimed at fostering reading amongst children was run just as if it was full-blown company project, Hodge said.
"We created our own book, a ten-page story aimed at kids ages 5-7, which we distributed to the kids at the St. Mary's Camp on St. Croix," said Deja Smith, a Charlotte Amalie High School graduate and rising junior studying English at the University of Tampa.
The story was about hurricane relief by a team of heroes called… The Innovators.
The division of labor on the effort reflected the interns' diverse strengths – the engineers, with their aptitude toward worked in the build-a-book department. Deanna Miller, who studies computer engineering at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., was tasked with logistics and an assembly line.
"The kids loved it. It was reading as well as activities – the pictures were blank so the kids could color [them in]. It was a-three-in-one deal," Smith said.
The project also collected childrens' book and distributed them throughout the territory at the Boy's and Girls Clubs, and hospitals on both islands.
For her individual tasks, Smith worked in public relations with Janette MillinYoung.
Smith's duties involved working on the company's monthly employee newsletter and assisting with writing news releases.
Smith talked about the program developing heightened senses of responsibility and patience. She said also that the program helped the group learn to work out problems as they occur.
"We had to work with the other interns – we had to depend on each other for tasks," Smith said.
Intern Andres Velazquez, a May graduate of the University of the Virgin Islands, concurred with Smith's assessment.
"We learned to work with different personalities." Velasquez said. "We all had to alter to engage with ten other great college students."
Velazquez said the program taught him about initiative and follow-through.
"I can really take initiative for myself and plan projects and see them through to the end without being supervised," Velazquez said.
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