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McPhee, too, wasn’t sure. After all, he said, he wasn’t coming in as a high-priced consultant. “I was interested in just seeing new stuff, seeing what the cool kids were using and having a chance to work with that.”
They settled on a rate somewhere between “hiring a full professor … and a college junior,” as Hardy put it. And McPhee, who is married and has a college-age son, moved to Minneapolis for the summer, staying in Flies’ guest room for several weeks to save the company a little money.
His thirty-something bosses got a kick out of introducing their newest employee, with the salt-and-pepper beard, as “the intern.”
“It’s like having your dad as an employee,” said Flies, 35. “He was in charge for all those years. Now you get to be in charge.”
McPhee said he got a chance to work with state-of-the-art technology, just as he’d hoped. “It was certainly a challenge,” he said. “They were really patient and helpful with somebody who was asking a lot of questions at the beginning.”
Flies said McPhee caught on so fast that sometimes he had to remind him that this wasn’t an academic exercise. “I’d have to really tell Nic … stop doing extra work, there’s no A in here,” he said.
Hardy said he worried that McPhee would be bored. But he turned out to be “a perfect fit,” he said.
When his internship ended in August, the project wasn’t quite finished. But McPhee said he learned “a ton.”
“It was interesting working in a start-up where there was no office and there were no hours to speak of, but we were working 60-hour weeks.” he said. “It was very cool.” At the same time, he said, “I think I was able to make a useful contribution.” And yet, he added, “we have some very strong undergrads who I think could have given me a run for my money.”
Jacqueline Johnson, chancellor of the Morris campus, said she thought the internship idea was a bit “wild” but also inspired — the sign of a professor who is “intellectually curious” and willing to take risks. “Honestly, I think there’s something very refreshing about the example that Nic McPhee presents,” she said. “[It] really allows him to come back into the classroom and bring that much more to the students that he’s teaching.”
McPhee said he has no interest in giving up his day job. But would he do another summer internship? “Totally,” said McPhee.
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384