State Farm Collaborates with Illinois Neurodiversity Initiative to Foster Inclusion in Talent Pipeline

Students learn about how State Farm became a insurance powerhouse
Students learn about how State Farm became a insurance powerhouse

The first official cohort of the Illinois Neurodiversity Initiative, otherwise known as I-N-I, traveled to the State Farm Headquarters in Bloomington, IL for a day of collaboration and professional development. Eleven students made the hour-long journey from Champaign to be graciously welcomed by many smiling faces at State Farm. 

This trip is possible due to a five-year grant from State Farm to help fund the program, which helps students with autism develop the necessary skills to be successful in college and the workplace. The day consisted of an overview of State Farm, a guided tour of State Farm’s very own history museum, lunch at the corporate cafeteria, and a panel made up of a diverse group of State Farm employees.

Traveling to the State Farm headquarters was an excellent capstone experience for the current class that this I-N-I cohort is in.  Each semester, I-N-I participants take a course that helps them develop skills that may come more naturally to their neurotypical counterparts yet are still crucial for success in college. This semester’s course is a 1 credit hour pre-employment seminar where students learn business skills like interviewing, resume writing, networking, and more. The State Farm field trip allowed them to practice some of these skills in the headquarters of a Fortune 50 company.

After coffee, donuts, and a brief rundown of the day ahead, the group traveled to the first floor of State Farm Good Neighbor Center where students were guided through the exhibits by State Farm Historian, Buck Farley. He explained the history of the company and the series of events that led to State Farm becoming a leader in the American insurance industry. He highlighted the philanthropic efforts of State Farm and the research they do with institutions like the University of Illinois to set automobile safety standards.

State Farm historian and museum tour guide, Buck, explains the philanthropic missions of the insurance company
State Farm historian and museum tour guide, Buck, explains the philanthropic missions of the insurance company

Afterwards, the group headed upstairs to the corporate cafeteria for lunch and put to practice the networking skills they’ve learned in class during the meal. “When I came to our trip today, I had no expectations, but I was so impressed by the students,” says Enterprise Technology Manager of STEM and Intern Programs, Kevin Reeves, whose team leads State Farm in their partnership with I-N-I. “I really enjoyed lunchtime and seeing how everyone interacts. To have the courage to not only speak about their stories but share their advice was so impressive.” 

The trip ended with a panel discussion in the afternoon about future careers and how the student can set themselves up for success during the application process for future jobs and in their future workplace. The diversity of this panel allowed students to connect with the employees more deeply and envision themselves having a career.  This I-N-I cohort has a diverse set of majors: civil engineering, plant biotechnology, history, astronomy, and more, but the State Farm employees did an excellent job catering to all future career paths during the discussion.  The students then became the panelists and discussed their fears coming out of college while the professionals offered suggestions on how to combat their stress.

To be admitted into the cohort, students apply at the end of their senior year of high school or freshman year of college.  After an interview and discussions with family members, 10-15 students are admitted each year, with hopes to have a class of 20 next year. 

“My path has never been easy but I’ll keep walking through adversity and the challenges”


-Freddy, a freshman engineering major and an I-N-I student

The interaction with the students helped the State Farm employees see just how important this program is for these students’ lives too.  If I had a program like [the Illinois Neurodiversity Initiative], I feel like I wouldn’t have missed out on 10 years of my life because it took me that long in my career to figure out the things that my other peers intuitively knew, says Kendall Farmer, a research analyst at State Farm who is neurodivergent and interacted with the students during the panel. 

Without the support of companies like State Farm, the Illinois Neurodiversity Initiative would not be possible.  This trip showed that the program is more than just another idea.  It is changing lives and needs more than just financial support.  “[State Farm’s] investment within the program is one thing.  Them having an employee talk to us is another.  Them having us there and welcoming us into their home shows that they truly want to invest in us and people like us,” says Liam, a freshman history major and an I-N-I student.  “I am forever grateful to see another side of their company.” 

Thankful for the assistance from State Farm, Jeanne Kramer, director of the Autism Program at UIUC and human development and family studies professor, knows that there is still more work they can do and more students they can impact.  “The grant from State Farm is going directly toward supporting the students in the program – it will be a key factor in allowing us to continue next year,” she says.  “While the grant is a tremendous help, we are still looking for additional donations to fully fund the program.”

Students and State Farm employees pose in the Atrium
Students and State Farm employees pose in the Atrium

If you are interested in partnering with I-N-I and making a difference in the lives of students and in your own company, please reach out to us here