Ryan Wolber’s summers as a kid were spent with his parents—both teachers on break themselves—as they took road trips, went camping, and hiked around the country.

It gave him a greater appreciation for the environment, enough that he enrolled in Illinois State’s renewable energy program. But through his classes and internships, he began to see what really moved the needle on the everyday decisions that affect the environment—money.

“While I disagreed with that, that was the cold hard truth,” said Wolber, a 2012 graduate. “So I figured I should know more about that. So I picked up a double major in economics too.”

He’s putting both majors to use today working for the Illinois Green Business Association (IGBA), a Champaign-based nonprofit that shows companies how to adopt sustainable practices, then verifies they actually did. The former student leader is the IGBA’s certification manager, where he draws on Illinois State’s current crop of green students for a unique internship program, now in its third year.

The IGBA program is just one example of how Illinois State develops partnerships with business, educational, and government entities to provide learning, financial, and mutually beneficial opportunities. That’s one of the strategies laid out in the University’s latest strategic plan, Educating Illinois 2013-2018: Individualized Attention, Shared Aspirations.

Educating Illinois cover

Educating Illinois in action: Read more about how Illinois State’s strategic plan is being implemented: EducatingIllinois.IllinoisState.edu.

After training, IGBA’s student interns are assigned to a local business that’s expressed interest in becoming “green certified” in nine areas, such as water conservation and waste reduction and recycling. Using a combination of soft and hard business skills, the interns assess the company using a 270-item checklist, then help implement changes, then stick around to verify those changes have been made.

“They’re part consultant, part regulator,” Wolber said.

Illinois State students have already helped certify Uptown Normal’s Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Vitesse Cycle Shop, and the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council (EDC), with six more currently enrolled in the certification process and now working with their interns. (The IGBA also certifies businesses around the state, as well as its work with utility companies and education efforts.)

One of those interns is senior renewable energy major Andrew Verderber, who is assigned to certify the Ecology Action Center, a not-for-profit based in an Uptown house dating back to the early 1860s.

Verderber was drawn to the internship program after hearing positive buzz about it from Missy Nergard in Illinois State’s Office of Sustainability, which recently earned the IGBA’s Green Champion Award (along with the EDC) at the organization’s Green Business Summit in the Chicago suburbs.

Verderber also liked the prospect of getting valuable real-world job experience for himself while also leaving a business better off than we he arrived, as well as certified.

“From there, they can market themselves, they can stand out from other businesses in the community by showing that they are making an effort, and hopefully others will follow,” said Verderber, who would like to work as a consultant advising large-building owners how to cut their energy use and costs.

Cody and Andrew at EAC

IGBA interns Cody Baker, right, and Andrew Verderber at the Ecology Action Center.

Former IGBA interns have gone on to put their on-the-job training to good use.

Accounting major Rachel Foley ’13 wanted to add value to her degree in a way that supported her passions for the environment and ethical business practices. So she added the new College of Business minor in business environment and sustainability and in May was one of the first students to graduate with it.

Foley interned for a semester with IGBA, helping certify the Marriott, Vitesse, and EDC while getting experience using her professional communication skills in an audit-like setting.

Today, she’s a corporate auditor with Illinois Tool Works Inc., a Glenview-based firm with operations in 58 countries and around 60,000 employees. She’s doing work very similar to her IGBA internship—gathering documentation, interviewing different employees, and implementing best accounting practices. She also reviews the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report and other financial statements.

“I do not think I would be working at the job I am today without my experience as an intern with the IGBA,” Foley said.

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.