BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina insures a million people and processes about a billion medical claims each year.
Nearly all of those are managed through the health care insurer’s password-protected provider’s website. Medical professionals go there to file claims, download forms and check the status of claims. It is a massive database.
The site has not been updated for four years. This summer, Kunhuan Liu ’18, a chemistry and information technology major from Shenzhin, China, worked hand-in-glove with Robert Root, the company’s director of data interchange, to propose site upgrades.
For weeks, Liu mined data. He examined how users navigated the website, evaluated word searches and studied other provider sites. Last month, he and Root prepared a 38-page recommendation and whittled that down to a much shorter executive summary that will be presented to BlueCross BlueShield executives in Columbia later this fall.
“Kunhuan’s job as an analyst was to bring fresh eyes to this project,” says Root. “He used some analytical tools that we have not been using. And he found some things that made us question if we have been looking at the data correctly. Our ultimate goal is to make the site more user friendly for our providers so they do not feel the need to call us.”
It’s not often that the work of an intern lands on the desk of the company’s top brass.
But Liu’s experience is more the norm than the exception for most Furman students. This summer, more than 400 students took part in an internship. From job posting to exit interview, the Furman Internship Office works with many of these employees and employers to foster the development of rewarding experiences for both sides of the table.
“We work with these organizations to help them understand the goals for the internship,” says Susan Zeiger, Furman’s internship director. “Our guidelines require there to be a good mentor, a component of professional learning, and we want our students to make meaningful contributions to projects.”
The internships are a critical component of The Furman Advantage, a bold promise to provide every student with high-impact, engaged learning experiences that can help identify passions and pave the way to successful careers.
Liu was one of four Furman interns employed by BlueCross this summer. The others, Emma Winiski ’18, Fangzhou Wang ’18 and Megan DeMaar ’18 worked in the departments of clinical innovation, provider services and marketing respectively.
While departments within BlueCross have worked with interns informally for years, the process was formalized and placed under the company’s human resources division early this year. The department created a formal application process and Gayel Wigfall, a member of the BlueCross Human Resources team, connected with Zeiger and coordinated a visit to campus to provide an information session for students and later to conduct interviews. BlueCross helped the students arrange living quarters and developed supervisor guidelines for managing interns.
“Working with interns is different,” says Barbara Eppink, BlueCross talent acquisition manager. “They have a different set of needs. There has to be coaching and mentoring. And our managers need to know how to respond to that. Interns need to work in an environment where they are valued and where they have input.”
The seeds of the program were planted during an impromptu meeting between Furman President Elizabeth Davis and Scott Graves ’96, president of BlueCross South Carolina.
“I did have an internship during college at a bank. I was able to learn a lot through the experience, meet some great people, and get a glimpse of how the banking business operated. Though I ultimately chose a different career path, the experience was invaluable as part of my learning and development process while at Furman,” says Graves. “I was confident that working with Furman, our organization would have access to intellectually curious interns who, in turn, would welcome the opportunity and make the most of their experience. The feedback all around has been very positive. As a Furman graduate, it was gratifying to contribute to The Furman Advantage as an employer.”
Eppink says BlueCross plans to expand the pilot program next year by partnering with other universities and hiring more interns.
“BlueCross BlueShield is really good at investing in the community,” she says. “This program is an investment in the future and is an investment in our universities.”
And the learning, she says, is always a two-way street.
“The students have skills that we don’t have. So we learn from one another,” says Eppink. “The students often bring a different way of thinking to the table. It gives our employees a new perspective and they appreciate that.”
Kunhuan Liu ’18
Majors: Chemistry and Information Technology
Department: Provider Services
Project: Analyzed BlueCross’s provider website and helped develop recommendations for a site upgrade.
Perspective: “I felt like this was more than a semester’s worth of learning over the summer. I had access to a big data center, and I had the opportunity to apply data mining techniques that I learned in the classroom.”
Emma Winiski ’18
Majors: Math and Economics
Department: Clinical Innovation
Project: Studied data and authored health reports to show if BlueCross patients were getting needed screening and medical evaluations. Helped organize an outreach event to educate patients about the importance of check-ups and screenings.
Perspective: “My experience related directly to my interest in poverty studies and how public policy can impact public health. Good health is a foundation that is needed for people to find a job, support themselves and contribute to society. And I am really interested in developing ways to improve access to healthcare.”
Fangzhou Wang ’18
Department: Provider Services
Project: Support operations that set reimbursement rates for medical claims and manages payments to medical providers.
Perspective: “I learned hard skills here. My job was an active form of learning. In college, you learn from the professor and from the textbook. Here, you don’t have a professor standing over you, and you have to problem solve.”
Megan DeMaar ’18
Majors: Business and Latin American Studies
Project: Updated and maintained customer databases, helped to plan a United Way fundraiser and market a new dental insurance plan.
Perspective: “I am on the volleyball team and working as a team has always been a big part of my life. My experience helped me to see how teamwork can extend to the workplace. Everyone in my department always worked together. They were very supportive and goal oriented.”
BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.