The Michigan STEM Forward internship program recently placed its 500th intern — a significant milestone for the statewide service that launched in March 2021. Since then, it has continued to pair Michigan students and companies, providing a much-valued resource designed to retain top talent in the state.
“Recruiting and retaining talent is one of the biggest challenges businesses face today, and it is a bipartisan issue that we are all focused on,” said Governor Whitmer. “The MI STEM Forward internship program connects Michigan’s top up-and-coming talent with innovative companies throughout Michigan, helping them grow and continue to invest in our state. With 500 interns placed and more on the way, I am confident that MI STEM and other workforce development programs we have collaborated on will help close the skills gap, empower our most innovative companies, and offer bright young Michiganders meaningful work experience.”
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) tapped Ann Arbor SPARK to administer the program. “Ann Arbor SPARK has years of experience implementing and collaborating with partner organizations on other internship programs,” said Bill Mayer, senior vice president of entrepreneurial services. “After launching our own program in 2011, we collaborated with Eastern Michigan University’s Digital Summer Clinic in 2014 and then in 2021 launched an XR internship program connecting University of Michigan students with growing startups in gaming and extended reality.”
Of the students that participated in SPARK’s internship program over the past five years, 84 percent of them accepted jobs in Michigan upon graduation.
“In addition to providing students with resume-building experiences, the MI STEM Forward program handles the administrative portion of hiring the interns, such as tax forms and paperwork, as well as underwriting 50 percent of the intern’s wages — up to $3,000 for a full-time intern,” explained the program’s manager Ben Ernst. “While the program is available to Michigan companies that have a STEM-focused internship opportunity, we’ve found it provides the most relief to smaller and early-stage companies that may not have budget or personnel to facilitate this process.”
Impact To Date
According to a survey of past participants, more than 60 percent reported receiving a job offer from their host company. This indicates that the program is moving the needle on retaining job seekers post-graduation and expanding the pipeline of workers available to Michigan companies.
“While we are thrilled with the success of the program so far, we really want more companies to take advantage of this amazing opportunity,” remarked Ernst. “We have approximately four student applications for every unique job description received. The message to companies is that your primary business does not need to be in a STEM field — just the internship needs to be STEM-focused. For example, we placed an intern with a mushroom farm in northern Michigan to help with genetics.”
He also went on to commend the MI STEM Forward partner organizations that contribute to the program’s achievements. “The success of the program is the result of a strong network of economic development organizations and SmartZones established and supported by the MEDC. They provide an imperative connection between the local companies in their region and the program.”
Meet the 500th Intern
The program’s 500th placement is David Myers, a rising junior at Western Michigan University. He started in September as a CAD technician intern at Singh Automation in Portage, located in Kalamazoo County.
“Through the Michigan STEM Forward program, they’ve enabled me to have access to a small business like this,” Myers shared. “You can get incredible experience … and help the small business out as well. And that’s [helping] not just the small business, but it’s your community, it’s your state, the economy around this entire area.”
Sonny Singh, operational manager at Singh Automation also affirmed the program’s benefits. “It’s helping communities around us and it’s especially helping local youth to stay local. The environment at Singh Automation is we like to give back to [the] community. The community is helping us grow, so we take our energy, we take our skillset and train people like David to be prepared for the real world when they are [entering] the job market.”
Upcoming MI STEM Events
Michigan STEM Forward is launching a new, monthly seminar series focused on helping students and recent graduates get the most out of their internship experience. These hour-long interactive sessions are valuable for interns at every stage of their experience — from those who are on the initial search for the right opportunity, to individuals who have successfully completed their placement and are looking for the right way to leverage their experience. Deborah A. Field, Ph.D., will be leading the sessions. Dr. Field has supervised nine internships and is an award-winning instructor.
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