Internship experience invaluable for CIS sophomore Maddy Willis

Fort Smith, Ark., native Maddy Willis discovered a love of technology during high school and came to TU knowing that she wanted to work in a technical role. She started as a computer science major in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences, but wasn’t sure it was the right fit for her. “I knew that I wanted to do something technical and that I wanted to be part of a business role; I just didn’t know how to get there,” said Willis.

Her mentor, a computer information systems (CIS) major, explained the differences between computer science, which involves more coding and back-end systems work, and someone who helps implement systems in an organization as a project manager or business analyst. Willis said, “I switched my major to CIS and haven’t looked back since.”

An internship following her freshman year solidified the transition from computer science to CIS. With the help of Assistant Professor of CIS Sal Aurigemma, Willis was hired as an intern at Gateway Mortgage. “I didn’t really know what the experience would look like going in,” she said. “I was still nervous about the transition from a computer science major to a CIS major, but that internship really solidified my choice.”

Willis worked in the escrow department and was tasked with organizing one of the company’s software systems and implementing a plan to keep the data clean. “I had to come up with a new software function that the retail department could implement so that the servicing department could use the data efficiently. I put together the avenue and sent it back to IT to complete the project. Seeing the day-to-day role of a project manager and getting to interact with the customer, listing all of the requirements and making sure they had a product that they wanted and could use was such a valuable experience.”

Willis’ mentor connected her to a recruiter at Phillips 66, who invited her to attend the company’s IT student connection event in Bartlesville, Okla. Students go through a four-day interview process in hopes of securing a summer internship. Based on her qualifications, Willis received an offer at the end of the event and will be an intern at Phillips 66 this summer. “There are successful TU alumni everywhere you go,” Willis said. “Forming relationships with mentors in the campus community helps you gain experience and make those connections.”

She also stresses campus involvement as a way to build key skills that translate to the workplace. As executive director of the TU Student Association’s Springfest event, Willis oversees a week of events for the student community. “It’s essentially a huge project that I have to manage, and something I can add to my résumé and discuss during interviews.”