Norwich students stand out
from the pack at Booz Allen Hamilton © Jan. 16, 2009, Norwich University Office of Communications

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Norwich’s Matt Nesteruk, ’09, explains a major computer security concern at the end of his summer 2008 internship at Booz Allen Hamilton in Virginia.

Robert Colletti, a computer security and information assurance student at Norwich University, says accepting a job more than a semester before graduation in uncertain economic times is a huge weight off his shoulders.

But it means more than that. The summer 2008 internship at Booz Allen Hamilton in Virginia that led to the job offer gave him an exciting look at the corporate world and the challenges that await him at the conclusion of his quiet, academic life in Northfield, Vt.

“I’m itching to get back; to do work that matters,” said Colletti, a fourth-year student and one of three Norwich interns who stood out at Booz Allen, a consulting firm and government contractor.

The company, whose specializations include information technology, systems engineering and strategy consulting, has made its internship program a key part of recruiting, taking on 200 to 300 promising college and graduate students each year. Colletti spent the summer in McLean, Va., with Norwich CSIA students Wendell Watson, who has also accepted a job with the firm, and Matt Nesteruk, who has been offered a position but won’t graduate until late 2009. He will return for a second internship in the meantime.

It was my introduction to the corporate world.

~ Wendell Watson,
computer security student

Not every intern receives a job offer.

“They stood out as leaders as undergraduates,” said Jon Allen, a senior associate at Booz Allen and 1994 graduate of Norwich, the nation’s first private military college. From conversations with recruiters who interviewed students for potential jobs, Allen said he’s heard the Norwich contingency—the first at Booz Allen—quickly built a reputation as knowledgeable, respectful and diligent students. The preparation they brought from Norwich, with its tradition of experiential learning, is in line with what their clients are seeking. They also have a strong work ethic.

“They’re not cocky,” he said. “They’re confident, but they don’t feel entitled.”

Colletti said interns were not able to work directly on many projects due to security clearance issues, but he found his school experience relevant and the work challenging. One surprise was the investment everyone seemed to have in the company. He found himself catching that enthusiasm, and putting in a lot of hours.

“What surprised me was that it was real work,” said Colletti.

The three interns served on a “cyber threat” think tank, culminating in a presentation at the end of the summer. The subject was the future of threats to computer security, and how to mitigate risk. Every Thursday, 10 interns and company officials gathered in a room with whiteboards and computers where they were encouraged to brainstorm, research, debate and use their imaginations.

Watson, from Holden, Mass., said they would often discuss the problems through eight-hour days that could be quite grueling. The level of debate was high, and he was intrigued by the disparity between the “geek” point of view, in which money was never an issue, and a more businesslike vantage point that put cost above all else. “I’ve never worked with so many people from so many different backgrounds,” he said. “It was my introduction to the corporate world.”

Nesteruk said the mix of nontechnical- and technically-minded people was educational, and gave him a more realistic perspective. When computer security people speak to one another, they tend to focus on technology, missing the big picture you get when business people are involved.

“It kind of becomes your job to explain things,” he said.

Allen said the three Norwich undergrads more than held their own with graduate students from schools such as MIT, Harvard and Virginia Tech that make up the “core” of schools Booz Allen taps for hiring. Recruiters were also impressed by Norwich’s participation in international exercises and competition, such as the federal government’s Digital Forensics Challenge and the Combined Endeavor computer interoperability summit, which includes Norwich as the sole academic institution.

Professor Danielle Zeedick, Norwich’s CSIA program director, was the person who made the initial contact between Norwich and Booz Allen, thanks to her consulting experience in Washington, D.C. Initially, there were about 10 interested students, she said. These were whittled down to three.

“I wanted to send them kids who were on fire about information assurance,” said Zeedick, who expects the relationship with Booz Allen to continue.

All three have started the yearlong process of applying for security clearance, which needs to be in place by the time they start their jobs. Nesteruk said he’s looking forward to his next Booz Allen internship, and has no idea what he’ll learn.

“I really don’t know where they’re going to put me this year,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s something new.”