Photo of Arlene Castaneda

Opportunities are there. They [The Hartford] are giving us the tools.

Community colleges exist to provide educational opportunities for people. One of the newest such opportunities at Waubonsee Community College is a partnership with The Hartford, a leader in property and casualty insurance, group benefits and mutual funds.

The Hartford Apprenticeship Program allows students to earn an associate degree in business while working in the insurance industry. Students in the program not only gain valuable real-world experience, but they are employees of The Hartford. As employees of the company, the students are paid for their work and their college tuition is paid directly to the college by The Hartford.

Arlene Castaneda, of North Aurora, is one of the students in the apprenticeship program at Waubonsee. She began taking classes part-time at Waubonsee in the spring semester of 2018. She had worked in human resources for 10 years as a benefits administrator and wanted to take business classes to help her in her career. Unfortunately, she lost her job through a workforce reduction at her company. Castaneda decided to go to school full-time in 2019. That is when she learned about The Hartford Apprenticeship Program, and it was a natural fit.

“For me, insurance has been interesting since my early 20s,” said Castaneda.

Castaneda completed The Hartford’s 5-week employee onboarding program in July 2019 before beginning the academic coursework at Waubonsee with a cohort of six other students. She now goes to school full-time and works between 20 and 25 hours a week at the company’s claims office in Aurora. She works with program officials at Waubonsee and The Hartford to plan courses and work schedules. Students in the program rotate through areas within the Claims organization to get a variety of training and experience. The Hartford also provides professional mentors to the apprentices, as well as on-the-job training and pertinent industry certifications.

Michelle Phillips, co-lead of The Hartford’s Aurora office, already sees value in the first cohort of Waubonsee apprentices.

“It’s been a smooth transition and incredible partnership, benefitting the students and our team,” said Phillips.

The Hartford’s apprenticeship program was piloted in 2015, received federal designation in 2016, and is now in four states. The Hartford appreciates what community college students bring to the company.

“Community college students have roots locally, loyalty to the area and they want to build careers in the local area,” said Phillips.

This program also has other long-term benefits for the workforce.

“One benefit of our apprentice program is reaching people early in people’s careers. Finding apprentices as first-year students creates a pipeline for talented professionals,” said Phillips.

Castaneda plans to graduate from Waubonsee in May 2021 and is looking forward to a career in the field that she has been interested in for several years.

“Opportunities are there. They [The Hartford] are giving us the tools,” she said.

The Hartford piloted their Claims Apprentices program in Hartford, Connecticut. Since then the program has expanded to colleges in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois. Waubonsee is the only college in Illinois that offers this program. Visit to learn more about the program from The Hartford and visit to learn more about this program at Waubonsee.