Principal Financial Design Sprint
Iowa State University students innovate financial plans for future generations during Principal Financial Group internship
By Mallory Tope, Communications Assistant | Published August 30, 2021
As one semester ends and another begins, students are often found desperately scrolling through job sites and applying to internship after internship. They want to do something meaningful, something that will help them in their future careers and something that allows them to innovate in new and exciting ways.
These hopes were met for six Iowa State University students in Spring 2021 when they were accepted into the Principal Financial Design Sprint, a unique collaborative internship experience created by the Student Innovation Center and Principal Financial Group — an American global financial investment, management and insurance company headquartered in Des Moines.
Student Innovation Center Director of Innovation Programming Karen Piconi Kerns said it all started with a brainstorming session with Principal Financial Group Resident Intrapreneur, James Altamirano.
Altamirano, who also serves as a Student Innovation Center Innovator in Residence and sits on the advisory council, wanted to create an authentic learning and job experience for students. Together, he and Piconi Kerns built the foundation for a unique partnership that goes beyond a traditional student internship.
“[We wanted to] create an experience where students can bring their authentic selves to the table and not necessarily try to deliver something based on specific directions that they’re provided with,” Altamirano said. “We want them to think a little crazy, to challenge social norms, to challenge old ways of thinking, to present something in a way that doesn’t necessarily feel complete or perfect.”
Over the course of 18 months, Piconi Kerns and Altamirano collaborated to change the traditional one-on-one internship experience into a group experience. It was then offered to Iowa State students as part of the center’s Innovation Programming.
The six students selected to take part in the Design Sprint included Jansen Bundridge, business administration; Haley Schultz, materials engineering; Phillip Gorni, aerospace engineering; Matthew Hines, industrial engineering; Elvis Kimara, software engineering; and Ayman Karmi, materials engineering.
During the 10-week paid internship, the team worked and met with Principal Financial Group and Piconi Kerns weekly to collaborate and consult. They were given a budget, time and resources to complete one mission: to design financial security for the next generation.
“We want them to think about the stuff we’re not thinking about, the stuff that we’ve never created before,” Altamirano said. “We want them to tell us what they would do, what it would look like to build it from their point of view; they are a part of the next generation of customers.”
Students learned various skills throughout this internship, such as product management, project management, problem-solving, market assessment and customer experience.
Matthew Hines, a senior in industrial engineering, joined the internship because he wanted a non-traditional challenge. Hines wanted to learn more about money and finance to have another asset to bring to his engineering background.
“It has generated a unique outlook on some very common problems which along with the team has started to change the way I think about solving problems,” Hines said. “It has been very beneficial to reevaluate myself and my surroundings.”
For Elvis Kimara, a junior in software engineering, brainstorming as a group provided an opportunity to learn from others in the group and express his own ideas.
“Having students from different backgrounds and majors allowed for the group to brainstorm and problem solve innovatively and take the brainstorming in different directions,” Kimara said.
Hayley Schultz, a senior in material engineering, said she, along with other members of her team, gained hands-on experience, industry skills and new knowledge on finances.
“It’s given me a better understanding of what I can and could be doing financially,” she said.
Altamirano hopes those skills gained throughout the experience will help set the students up for success in their future careers.
“Lots of students end up experiencing a Catch 22 when applying for jobs; companies will say you need to have experience but will not give them a job to gain experience,” Altamirano said. “My hope is that at the end of this sprint, students that worked on this brand will be able to add it to their portfolio.”
Stay tuned for more as the Innovation Programs plans to launch several industry Sprints, Circuits, Dash and more this Fall.