A Finance Major’s Gerstacker Internship Goes Beyond Numbers

August 25, 2022

Claire Nickerson, '23

Claire Nickerson is a finance major and psychology minor with a concentration in the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management. A member of the Prentiss M. Brown Honors Program, Nickerson is the child of Ken and Jodi Nickerson of Battle Creek, Mich., and a graduate of Harper Creek High School.

By Jake Weber

Claire Nickerson, ’23, was sure her summer internship with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) was a great “match,” a place where she could apply what she has learned in her finance coursework.

It was a surprise, then, to learn that the internship not only wasn’t about finance, it didn’t even really involve numbers.

But — as she expected — the internship was still a great match, and maybe an even better learning experience. Instead of crunching numbers, Nickerson has been helping BCBSM with another critical operation: making sure its oceans of data are protected.

Working with Michigan’s largest employers and healthcare facilities — along with countless individual patients and health care providers — means that BCBSM “has to prove the data is secure,” Nickerson says. “There’s a process, and that’s what we do.”

On its surface, the process can look pretty straightforward. For example, anyone on Nickerson’s team may be asked to determine how a company handles data access as employees join, leave or transfer within the organization. But in order to answer that one question, Nickerson has to figure out who has the information, obtain it from them, then add it to the audit file.

That’s actually an easy question; at most companies, one person can provide the answer. On the other hand, assessing how a company complies with HIPAA mandates (another of Nickerson’s tasks) can take months, and may include several rounds of the same audit.

“This job is a lot about networking. I send a lot of emails, trying to get people to cooperate,” Nickerson says of her fully remote internship. She credits the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management and its director, Laurel Draudt, as well as Marsha Whitehouse, ’70, house advisor of Alpha Chi Omega, with helping her get ready for this part of the job.

“Gerstacker really helped me prepare,” Nickerson says, noting that a significant part of her work involves contact with people she doesn’t know. “I learned a lot about how to ask questions and work in different settings.”

Nickerson also notes the “silver linings” of this internship, such as the opportunity to “drink from the fire hose” in learning about information security. She’s also mindful of transferring some academic skills to the new workplace.

“In my Financial Modeling with Excel class with John Bedient, we spent a considerable amount of time on an Excel function called VLOOKUP which was super hard to understand,” Nickerson says. “I’ve used that a lot to filter through the documents I get from different people. It’s a huge organization tool I’ve been using.”

“Claire’s success is due to her own diligence in taking what she learned in class and expanding it on the job,” Bedient says. “For the class to be valuable, the student must use it as a springboard to exploring Excel with new confidence gained from class work.”

Confidence also has come from leadership roles on campus. For two years, she has served as vice president of finance for Alpha Chi Omega. She has also been vice president for philanthropy for Albion’s Panhellenic Council and involved with the Student Volunteer Bureau. Academically, she has been a First-Year Experience mentor, a Cutler agent through the Cutler Center and a member of the professional business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi. And this fall, she will pursue a study-away semester in Alicante, Spain.

Together, those out-of-classroom activities have added a surprising element to her internship success. “Those opportunities for leadership on campus made me feel more OK with making mistakes,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of responsibility for fixing mistakes. I know how to do this and keep moving on.”