Mercer and Blue Bird partner to provide scholarships and jobs to students

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Seven students post for a portrait in front of a building
Eight Mercer University students were named 2021 Blue Bird Scholars. They are, from left, Garrett LeClaire, a senior majoring in finance; Asia Cladd, a junior majoring in accounting; Jacob Vick, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering; Hannah Jeevanayagam, a junior majoring in finance; Jackson Mahoney, a senior majoring in accounting; Kimberly Lopez, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering; and Rance Gill, a junior majoring in electrical engineering. Cody Copeland, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, is not pictured.

As a rising senior at Mercer University, Felix Lin interned in the business office of Middle Georgia-based Blue Bird Corp., a leading designer and manufacturer of school buses.

That led to a part-time job there during his senior year and then a full-time job when he graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance and accounting.

Today, Lin is vice president of human resources and external affairs for Blue Bird, which has a manufacturing facility in Fort Valley and its corporate headquarters in Macon.

“I’m a prime example of if there are good opportunities that employers like us can offer, it gives people a reason to stay in Macon,” said Lin, who also holds master’s degrees from Georgia College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Several other Blue Bird executives are Mercer alumni and took similar paths. Now that college-to-career pipeline is being formalized through a new partnership between Blue Bird and the University.

Building on a previous scholarship grant to Mercer, the new program promises eight recipients a 12-week paid summer internship at Blue Bird and $2,500 each upon successful completion of the program. Students also may be offered part- or full-time positions at the conclusion of their internship.

The program is open to juniors and seniors in the School of Engineering and the Stetson-Hatcher School of Business.

“With Mercer being right in our backyard, it just makes all the sense that we recruit directly out of Mercer,” Lin said.

Hannah Jeevanayagam, a junior majoring in finance and global development, is a Blue Bird Scholar and finance intern at the company’s corporate office in Macon. This summer, she worked on two main projects: one related to finance and one related to sustainability.

The finance project focused on comparing Blue Bird’s capital allocation spending to its peer groups and finding ways for the company to improve. And the other project had her helping develop a companywide strategy toward sustainability, said Jeevanayagam, who is getting certified by the Global Recording Initiative, which provides the world’s most widely used standards for sustainability reporting.

She said she’s enjoyed learning from others in the company and discovering how she can combine her passions for numbers and helping people into a career.

“Blue Bird’s really helped me learn to step out of my comfort zone,” she said. “There’s been a lot of times where I’ve had to learn to ask questions.”

Cody Copeland

Cody Copeland, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, is a Blue Bird Scholar and manufacturing intern working at the main plant in Fort Valley. He said he initially wanted to work on the design side instead of manufacturing, but that soon changed.

“The first week of the internship was just mind blowing,” he said. “I loved it so much.”

This summer, he worked on a project that looked at streamlining the production of electric buses.

Copeland said he enjoys the people he works with, and Blue Bird is a great environment to learn.

“There’s just so much knowledge to be amassed there,” he said.

The program has been going well from Blue Bird’s perspective as well.

“I’m hearing very great feedback in terms of the contributions that the interns have been able to make individually, and then also I’m hearing from the interns about how this is helping them understand how the theoretical knowledge they’re gaining at the University applies in the business world,” said Ursula McNeill, director of human resources business partners at Blue Bird. “And then also they’re able to continue to build on certain skills that they’re developing in school.”

In addition to the eight Blue Bird Scholars, the company employed six more interns from Mercer this summer.

The Blue Bird partnership is part of a larger University initiative to enhance corporate relations, said Allen London, senior associate vice president for University Advancement.

The Blue Bird Scholars program “ties back into what we’re trying to do as an institution, and we’re going to use Blue Bird as our shining star example this year,” London said. “Look what we can do if we partner with a company where they have key alumni in leadership positions, they’re willing to financially support us, and they hire our graduates.”

The partnership is mutually beneficial. The pandemic has changed the job market completely, Lin said, and trying to get people to come to Macon rather than big-city Atlanta or the Midwest, where there are more industrial companies, is a challenge.

Lin wants students to see that they don’t have to leave Macon to be successful.

“We’re looking for people that are hungry and that want to grow,” he said. “We’ll give you the opportunity to do a lot of different things.

“Even for myself, I started out as an accounting and finance major and now I’m running HR.”

 

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Jennifer Falk is a digital content specialist at Mercer University. She creates and maintains written and multimedia content for primary University web pages. She collaborates with various schools and departments to ensure timely and consistent web page content is maintained. She also examines web data and analytics to drive content creation decisions.