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Internship matches students' research skills with corporation
July 27, 1998

Jay Vadiveloo, an Aetna official, has lots of ideas for research projects but no time to accomplish the extra tasks. Chuck Vinsonhaler, head of UConn's math department, doesn't have much time to spare either, but he does have students with extensive knowledge of math, statistics and actuarial sciences who are seeking research projects for their master's and doctoral dissertations.

So, when the two discussed their situations last year, the answer soon became clear, and Vadiveloo, an actuarial department head for Aetna Retirement Services Inc., brought UConn graduate students Frank Kang and Yvonne Chueh on board as interns. Their work has been so good that Vadiveloo, who is also an adjunct professor in UConn's math department, had no problem convincing other Aetna executives of the value of bringing more UConn math students to Hartford.

Vinsonhaler and Vadiveloo have now created a link between the corporate giant and UConn that will bring up to six actuarial sciences students a year to the insurer for year-long internships. The arrangement will fill many of Aetna's needs, while giving the students a close-up look at the industry, a stipend and fellowship, as well as a research project they can carry from Aetna to UConn as they craft their dissertations.

"Aetna gets great students who bring their skills, energy and excitement to the company, and the students get real life experience and funding," says Vadiveloo.

Vadiveloo has been such an energetic proponent of the arrangement that he has convinced other department heads at Aetna, notably in information services, to explore creating a link with UConn. And still other department heds may follow, too.

The program goes beyond a standard internship. Those partnerships usually involve undergraduates, which gives companies an extra pair of hands and students a glimpse of life outside academe. The internship Vinsonhaler and Vadiveloo have crafted places the students directly into the research core of the corporation.

"Ph.D. students are more involved in creation of new knowledge," Vinsonhaler says. "And they want to be exposed to research problems, so (Aetna) will guide them to areas where research needs to be done."

Besides the learning experience, the students will be paid an hourly salary and the math department will receive a $5,000 fellowship for each intern they place. Nearly all the fellowship money will go to the students, Vinsonhaler says, while about $500 from each will be reserved in a pool for recruiting the nation's best actuarial sciences students into UConn's program. The interns will work at Aetna full-time in the summer and during breaks in the academic calendar, and part-time during the academic year. They will also be eligible for course credit.

Vadiveloo is surveying other Aetna department heads to find areas that need help, then he and Vinsonhaler will work to match students to particular departments and research areas.

"It's a very practical program," Vadiveloo says. "The students bring great energy to my whole area. They (Frank Kang and Yvonne Chueh) are a breath of fresh air."

Richard Veilleux