UConn's Cigna Mobile App Team

Brittany DePoi, a senior from Brookfield double-majoring in biomedical engineering and computer science and engineering, and Nhat-Tan Duong, a junior from Bristol majoring in computer science and engineering talk with Cigna employee John Kim at the Cigna Innovation Lab at the University of Connecticut. Bloomfield-based Cigna Corp. opened the lab at UConn, where 10 paid interns are working on IT projects that could serve as improvements to Cigna's medical claim processing, new mobile applications and other health-technology improvements. (Ariel Dowski | University of Connecticut / April 10, 2012)

Cigna's part-time internship program on the University of Connecticut campus, less than a year old, is already successful from the insurance company's perspective — of eight interns who are graduating in the spring, four have accepted offers of full-time work.

Last spring, Cigna decided to create part-time internships on the University of Connecticut campus, selecting 10 students from the state's flagship university and eight from Eastern Connecticut State.

The program continued in the fall with 11 UConn students and nine from Eastern.

Hiring interns when they graduate was the objective from the start, said spokesman Joe Mondy.

The company didn't aim for students to learn great things from making a mobile app, or any other computing task, "and then go work for a competitor."

The fact that the students can put in their hours — generally 10 to 15 hours weekly — without leaving campus broadens the pool of students available for the work. There were 50 applicants for the jobs.

Brittany DePoi, a dual major in biomedical engineering and computer science and engineering at UConn, didn't have a car when she started the Cigna internship, so getting to Bloomfield would have been impossible.

DePoi, who grew up in Brookfield, knew she wanted to stay in state when she graduated, but had never considered working for an insurance company.

"I actually didn't know a lot about software development at insurance companies," she said. The preconceptions she had were fairly negative. After a month or so, she realized Cigna's computer programmers have interesting projects, and are using new technologies.

"I did not expect that at all," she said.

DePoi will go to work for Cigna when she graduates. "I'm very happy, my whole family lives in Connecticut, I wanted to stay very close," she said.

Cigna's decision to build a talent pipeline at UConn and Eastern Connecticut also is retaining technical talent that might have gone elsewhere.

Ben Luddy, a dual major computer science and engineering and music at UConn, lives in West Hartford, but was open to relocating to Boston, New York or California.

"Wherever the opportunity was, I would be willing to go for it," he said.

Cigna is recruiting University of Connecticut graduate students in business, psychology and mathematics now, for projects on consumer insights research and analytics, pharmacy forecasting, and consumer health engagement.

Getting customers to take better care of their bodies, so they avoid the chronic diseases that can come from too much weight, smoking or simmering stress, is the holy grail, Mondy said.

The company has chosen five interns so far, and is looking for about 30. It will interview more graduate students on Tuesday.

Neither Mondy nor the interns said what they were paid, but the students said it was substantially more than the $9 an hour they made at earlier jobs.

"I think we pay them pretty well," Mondy said. "They're very specialized jobs that they're doing, and also we want to attract them to company. And they're earning raises. It's real work and you get paid for performance."

DePoi said she and two other students are on a project with two full-time Cigna employees in Bloomfield, and the work is about 50/50.

Mondy said statistical analysis that influences wellness and disease management messages "is a big part of what we do these days, a growing part. We're pretty good at it, but we want to build our bench strength."