Summer internship program pairs students with local startups, expert mentors

A digital marketing summer internship program that connects students with both local startups and expert marketing mentors will graduate its latest class of interns today.

 

Now in its third year, the Digital Summer Clinic Internship Program is a partnership between Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) Center for Digital Engagement and Ann Arbor SPARK. This year's program gave paid internships to 24 student interns out of an applicant pool of 79. The program runs for nine weeks each summer, pairing students with startups that need help with digital marketing.

 

Origins of the internship program

 

Bud Gibson, director for the Center for Digital Engagement, runs the summer clinic program and says it grew out of an earlier partnership with Google and local nonprofits, started in 2008.

 

"We started training students in digital marketing and then we'd pair the students with nonprofit organizations, and they'd help those organizations build out Google AdWords accounts," Gibson says.

 

Gibson says the program "evolved substantially," and in 2015 organizers decided to put together the Center for Digital Engagement. They brought SPARK into the partnership, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation funded the first two years of the internship program through a grant.

 

Kimberly Brown, senior marketing manager at Ann Arbor's Duo Security, was involved in the earlier iteration of the program and came back this summer to serve as a mentor in residence.

 

Teachers and advisors reach out to recruit students, and there is a social media campaign to encourage applications as well. SPARK contributes by recruiting the startups who participate.

 

Win-win for startups and students

 

Gibson says the interns "are bringing value directly to the company," and the students, in turn, get hands-on experience applying the lessons they learned in their college courses.

 

Students primarily come from EMU and Washtenaw Community College, but the social media campaign brings in participants from Michigan State University and the University of Michigan as well.

 

Students who apply for the program aren't just marketing majors. They come into the program with majors ranging from computer science to public relations to digital art. They use their skills to help startups with everything from creating blog posts to updating Facebook or Instagram accounts to revamping company websites.

 

"They are not only bringing tangible skills, like building a landing page for the company's website, but they're also developing networking skills and refining their own online presence to increase the chances of landing a job after this," Brown says.

 

Weekly coaching sessions

 

An important component of the program is a weekly "clinic," in which the students must talk about what projects they've been working on and get suggestions and advice. Industry experts are also brought in to give talks or do panel discussions.

 

"The interns get the sort of coaching most people don't get in their day-to-day work at their jobs," Brown says.

 

Nicole Raymond interned in the program and managed the program's PR and digital media efforts this summer.

 

She was paired up with Ann Arbor startup TrueJob, which has created a new approach to job hunting. Raymond's internship involved producing blog posts and updating the company's social media accounts.

 

She says she appreciated getting hands-on experience with the digital side of marketing since that wasn't covered in any depth in her public relations courses in college. She also is glad that the job taught her more about analytics.

 

"The biggest benefit wasn't a certain skill, but more confidence in myself and my abilities," Raymond says. "In PR, you're not going to get this kind of experience anywhere else, and I've learned skills that other people [coming into their first jobs] won't have."

 

Gibson says confidence-building is a big part of why the weekly clinic is part of the program. He adds that industry experts' involvement as speakers and mentors makes the internship stronger and more robust than other internship programs, where students are thrown into a company to sink or swim.

 

"Kim leads the panel discussion and sources our speakers, and we could not do this without the dedication of skilled executives," Gibson says. "At the Center for Digital Engagement, we're a bunch of professors trying to help students, but we couldn't do it without the rest of the community."

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Anastasia Bebeshko.

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