Ann Arbor-based STEM internship program places 500th paid intern

The Ann Arbor SPARK-administered Michigan STEM Forward internship program has placed 500 people in paid STEM internships in just 18 months.
Program Manager Ben Ernst — himself a Michigan native and University of Michigan alum – says the program is "focused on connecting college students and recent graduates in the state of Michigan with innovative companies in the STEM space around the entire state."
Michigan STEM Forward acts as a matchmaker between Michigan companies and college students — those attending in-state institutions, as well as Michigan residents studying out-of-state. It assists companies with the administrative aspects of hiring interns and underwrites 50% of interns’ wages. On the students’ end, it provides mentorship through a monthly seminar series that launched on Oct. 26. Ernst says the program will help students "maximize their impact and the impact that the internship has on them" as well as helping them reflect their experience on a résumé or in a job interview.
Michigan STEM Forward is one of several statewide initiatives designed to cultivate and retain talent. It receives funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). Founded in 2005 with the goal of driving local economic development, Ann Arbor SPARK has its own locally based internship programming. Over the last five years, 84% of these interns went on to accept jobs in Michigan.
"We built on that foundation and expanded it in a statewide way," Ernst says. 
So far, the Michigan STEM Forward internships have also proven effective. More than 60% of program alums were offered a job by their host company.
The breadth of the companies that partner with Michigan STEM Forward goes beyond what one might traditionally think of as STEM-focused. Gourmet Mushrooms, Inc. in Mason County created an internship to research fungal compounds, and a children’s book publisher created an internship to develop an app that creates an interactive digital experience for readers. There are also internships in Ann Arbor, involving emerging technologies such as robotic delivery systems and autonomous vehicles.
"We’ve placed students that are getting hands-on experience as they’re creating these robots that are then being driven around Ann Arbor streets," Ernst says.
Although the placement of Michigan STEM Forward’s 500th intern is a significant accomplishment for this relatively new program, Ernst says there are still five times as many applicants as there are internships.
"There’s this huge pool of amazingly talented students in this state who are ready to contribute in a very real way," he says.
Looking forward, the program may expand its seminar series to work with companies on best practices for developing and maximizing internship programs. Ernst also hopes to recruit more students from underrepresented backgrounds.
"I’m really excited about opportunities that we have to expand our program into rural communities, into community colleges, and working with underserved populations," he says.

Brooke Marshall is a freelance writer and recent transplant to Belleville. She first visited Ann Arbor on a cross-country bicycle tour; you can read that story (and more!) in her first book, "Lucky."
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.