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Rules require John McDermott to wear safety glasses while walking inside the Oshkosh plant where heavy metal parts are sandblasted and painted.

But McDermott, director of finance at Whitefield Industrial Coatings, didn’t need rules to remind him to be friendly.

His demeanor and handshake were as warm as the summer weather outside as he described the impact University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s Business Success Center (BSC) interns have had on his company.

“Small businesses should get interested in the BSC’s program,” McDermott said. “The students bring energy as well as a willingness to learn and to absorb a lot of things going on. They also bring knowledge they’ve attained through the University.”

Whitefield began as a collision center in Green Bay in 1976, fixing up paint problems with auto wrecks, before the company expanded operations to include industrial coating, a shift that requires a high level of expertise.

McDermott’s recent tour of the 120,000-square-foot building began in the “finish room,” where completed parts are dried before they are sent on their way to help another business. And ever since McDermott’s company began hiring interns from the BSC last summer, Whitefield has been doing much the same thing with UW Oshkosh students.

“We help them get hands-on practice and knowledge so they can apply it in real work situations in the business world,” McDermott said.

Two Oshkosh students currently intern at Whitefield: Nicole Pokrandt, a human resources intern, and Jessica Vanevenhoven, an operations purchasing intern. These aren’t “fax-and-file” positions where they sit back and observe co-workers; both interns are gaining valuable experience that is relevant to their fields of study.

More than assistants

Pokrandt, a senior human resources major who will graduate from UWO in December, recalled the high standards she was looking for in an internship when she met with Chad Kopitzke, the BSC’s intern and operations manager, before nailing her interview with Whitefield.

“I told him I would like an internship where I can gain knowledge,” Pokrandt said. “Some people ‘assist’ at their internships; I wanted to learn as much as possible, and at Whitefield I have.”

Pokrandt carries out the HR duties for all three Whitefield locations: 2800 N. Main St. in Oshkosh as well as the industrial coating plant and the collision center in Green Bay). Her duties include distributing paychecks, handling vacation requests and managing employee issues, among others.

“It’s a big responsibility keeping tabs on an entire company, but I’m learning a ton,” she said.

Vanevenhoven, a senior double majoring in supply chain operations and accounting, is pleased she found a job that is germane to both of her fields of interest.

“I purchase all of Whitefield’s supplies,” Vanevenhoven said. “And I enter accounts payable records.”

She is essentially the “right hand man” to Whitefield’s Director of Operations Joel Banks. In addition to the challenges that come with this authority, Vanevenhoven has enjoyed juggling several tasks at a brisk pace.

“There’s so much going on here that I’ve learned to do five jobs at once,” she said. “When companies need their parts, they need their parts, and I enjoy filling their orders.”

The right fit

Whitefield’s association with the BSC may be only a year old, but it looks like it will turn out to be a long and fruitful one. A previous BSC intern and UW Oshkosh student Zach Kemp recently landed a job with Oshkosh Corp., largely because of the expertise he gained at Whitefield, McDermott said.

In fact, thanks to capable UWO students who come from the BSC — including Kemp, Pokrandt and Vanevenhoven — McDermott plans to hire more interns in the future.

“We believe their time at Whitefield provides the students with ‘real-world’ experience and also provides the company with a knowledgeable and productive workforce,” McDermott said.

Both Pokrandt and Vanevenhoven benefited from meeting with the BSC and gaining career counseling and advice before interviewing for their respective jobs. Pokrandt said the BSC was crucial in finding the right fit for her career aspirations.

“They definitely match you up with the right job,” Pokrandt said.

Added Vanevenhoven, “If you go through the BSC, you’ll keep coming back.”

The Business Success Center, formerly the Center for Community Partnerships, was founded in 1998 to give the public greater access to faculty, staff and students from UWO as well as community-based experts, offering customized training, applied research, survey services, business consulting and student internship programs to local businesses. Students interested in internships can contact Chad Kopitzke at (920) 424-2041 or Businesses and organizations can contact Doug Jarmusz at (920) 424-3266 or