Over the years, Scott Gerike has received many calls from St. Louis companies and agencies looking for talented graphic design students to serve as creative industry interns.
Usually Gerike, an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Missouri–St. Lewis and fellow professor Jennifer McKnight discuss students who might be a good fit and encourage them to apply for the positions.
Although these internships were very successful, there was no formal internship program in the department. However, that will soon change.
The Department of Art and Design has partnered with Checkmark, Nestlé Purina’s in-house creative resource and agency, to launch a new internship program this spring. Checkmark aims to have four trainees participate in the first cohort – two in the spring semester of 2023 and two in the summer between sessions. The program will be open to UMSL juniors and seniors in the graphic design program, and each student will receive a $5,000 internship stipend.
“Nestlé Purina wants to empower and prepare this next generation,” said Teresa Sausville, executive creative director at Checkmark. “We have a global job readiness initiative called Nestlé Needs You, so we’re really thinking about helping this next generation thrive and make an impact. It makes a lot of sense for the creative industry. A big part of being successful in a creative industry is having that experience in real life.”
UMSL and Checkmark first began working on the partnership in February when Sausville contacted Gericke and McKnight about the possibility of an internship program. She knew the university’s graphic design program was well-regarded and was also impressed by the UMSL graduates working at Checkmark. In the months that followed, Gericke worked closely with University Advancement, Student Financial Services and Department of Art and Design Chair Maureen Quigley to solidify the agreement.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Gerike said.
The program will introduce UMSL students to professional spaces in the creative industries and the protocols and expectations that come with them. This will also help them build their resumes as they approach graduation.
“One of our biggest goals is exposure — exposure, variety and real work,” Sausville said. “In this way, we hope they will get a better idea of what the industry is really about.” Maybe that will help inform them when they’re looking for their first real job.”
She added that the internship is meant to help students hone their craft. They will do this by contributing to Checkmark’s creative teams that work across Purina’s various verticals, including dog food, cat food, treats and litter.
“These interns will be doing real work working alongside our teams in client meetings,” Sausville said. “We work on almost all aspects of marketing, promotion and advertising. We have social, digital advertising, traditional advertising, packaging, promotional and new product innovations. They will, one way or another, be exposed to a pretty good range.
Sausville said Checkmark is excited about the new partnership and the energy UMSL students will bring to the organization. Guerique is also enthusiastic, adding that this is just the beginning of a growing initiative.
“The good thing about it is it’s going to open the door,” Gerike said. “We are looking at developing a more robust internship program in our department.”
He said that would likely include a class dedicated to internships and professional development. This would provide an opportunity for students who have completed internships to share what they have learned with their peers. A more formal internship program will also serve as a valuable recruiting tool.
In the future, the Department of Art and Design will seek additional partnerships with other major St. Louis companies with in-house creative teams that could benefit from UMSL’s talented and diverse student body.
“We want this to be something we can hang our hat on,” Gerike said. “I’ve already made a list of other companies I’ll be reaching out to once we get through this first wave.”
Gericke, McKnight and Elizabeth Buchta, assistant professor of graphic design, will begin accepting applications for the program in September and screen applicants in the fall semester.
“Purina is a great place to work,” Sausville said. “It’s a great environment and I’m really proud of what we’re doing at Checkmark. We are committed to making this a good experience and a truly experiential experience. We are all passionate about the creative process and creative craft. If this sounds like something that aligns with what you want, please apply.”
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