Contact: Margaret von Steinen
July 6, 2021

Build professional pipelines, attract talent

Student interns enhance your organization not only by providing an extra pair of hands, but they can also help fill an existing skills gap, such as enhancing your social media strategy or focusing on a specific engineering or business challenge.

The pandemic has made our students incredibly flexible and resilient, like Nick Koch, a spring 2021 graduate of WMU’s product design program, from Chelsea, Mich.

Determined to not let the shift to remote work undermine his plans to gain experiential learning experience in his field, Koch pivoted in summer 2020 from a traditional internship to a COVID-19-modified experience with Stryker Corp. He worked virtually with a team exploring potential methods for delivering chemotherapy in the home environment, a need far greater during the pandemic when any trip outside the home could be dangerous for a cancer patient.   

That experience helped Koch net an independent contract in fall of his senior year as an industrial design consultant at Tekna in WMU’s Business Technology and Research Park. He helped generate concepts for client presentations. 

“My experience at Tekna gave me the opportunity to work alongside industry professionals and have a hand in real-world projects,” said Koch. “I was heavily involved in activities such as sketching, rough model making and design research. Working for Tekna gave me the understanding of what it means to be a professional industrial designer and had a great impact on my future success.” 

Koch’s tenacity surrounding his internship paid off with a pre-graduation offer of employment from Stryker Medical, where he is now an industrial designer on a team designing acute care hospital beds and stretchers. 


Nick Koch works in the Tekna offices as an industrial design consultant.

  • “Working for Tekna gave me the understanding of what it means to be a professional industrial designer and had a great impact on my future success.”  —Nick Koch, B.A.'21


Noah Gould working on a piece of machinery.

Noah Gould working at his engineering internship at GAST Manufacturing in Benton Harbor.

An internship with GAST Manufacturing in Benton Harbor was Noah Gould’s key to setting himself apart from others in his field of mechanical engineering. He completed two summer 2020 internships at GAST, an industry leader in the design and manufacturing of quality air-moving products.  

“My internships at GAST gave me hands-on experience running tests in their labs and in the engineering area designing products,” says Gould, a senior from Highland, Mich. “I worked with the head engineers to expand my knowledge base and gain real-world experience. With the manufacturing facility attached to the office, I was also able to work on a manufacturing line for a day to see how designs come together as products.”   

Drew Covert, GAST vice president of engineering, said the company established a structured internship program in partnership with WMU and the Career and Student Employment Services Employer Engagement team four years ago. The goal was to help develop the next generation of talent and accelerate project execution. 

“Our internship program and partnership have flourished with the strong education WMU provides, the opportunities to get in front of students and the great feedback we receive from our interns and the staff at WMU,” says Covert. “We have provided full-time opportunities for some of our WMU graduates as well as introducing them to the collegiate talent program through our parent company, IDEX.  We are continuing to work on expanding our connection with WMU and all the benefits from this relationship.” 

  • “We are continuing to work on expanding our connection with WMU and all the benefits from this relationship.” —Drew Covert, GAST vice president of engineering


Intern-driven discussion groups boost English language learning at nonprofit 

Two students from Western’s School of Social Work have leveraged their learning in the classroom to create engaging discussion groups for adult English as a second language learners through internships at the Kalamazoo Literacy Council (KLC). 

Yesenia Vazquez-Camey and Pamela Aguilar lead the discussion groups where they provide English language learners a safe space for self-expression and connection while practicing their conversation skills. Vazquez-Camey also helps conduct evaluations for new and existing learners.

“Working at the KLC has definitely enhanced my people and communications skills,” says Vazquez-Camey, a senior from Battle Creek. “In the classroom, you can learn and read about the profession, but it's not until you actually start doing the work firsthand that you will learn something about social work.” 

Aquilar appreciates that the KLC staff and internship encourage her to think from the social worker’s perspective and give her the chance to gain leadership skills. Additionally, Aquilar and Vazquez-Camey have laid the foundation for future interns to lead the discussion groups by developing and documenting the process. These experiences helped Aquilar land a full-time position in June with Family and Children Services in Bilingual and Residential Youth Direct Care—six months before her planned graduation in December 2021. 

“The KLC is not your normal social work internship, working with clients and families,” says Aguilar, a senior from Kalamazoo. “It’s an internship that helps you grow by letting you take the lead on what you want to change. My KLC mentors have taught me that promoting empowerment within our learners helps bring an exponential growth to their learning. These are things that I cannot learn in a classroom.” 

Michael Evans, KLC executive director, says these pre-professionals bring a high level of energy, curiosity and passion to KLC programming, which is designed to empower adults and their families to reach their full potential. The council has employed 74 WMU interns since the organization was founded in 1974. 

“Pamela and Yesenia’s dynamic discussion groups have increased the confidence, independence and satisfaction of our English language learners,” says Evans. “We appreciate the ongoing collaboration we have with WMU to bring expertise such as this from the University to our organization to help us make a greater positive impact in our community.” 

Why should I hire interns? 

  • Create a future talent pipeline.  
  • Introduce a fresh perspective and new skillset to your team. 
  • Increase company productivity.  
  • Get a head start on training before investing in a full-time hire.  
  • Mentorship and leadership opportunities for existing full-time employees. 



A woman standing next to a sign that reads "welcome to our garden." And, another woman smiling at a picnic table.

The Read and Seed community garden and Interpretive Learning Center, which serve as outdoor classrooms at Kalamazoo Literacy Center are intentionally designed to encourage interpersonal communication. Western interns Yesenia Vazquez-Camey and Pamela Aguilar have been tasked with creating discussion groups in these spaces.

  • “We appreciate the ongoing collaboration we have with WMU to bring expertise such as this from the University to our organization to help us make a greater positive impact in our community.” —Michael Evans, KLC executive director


Benefits of interns in the workplace  

Investing time and organizational resources into hiring interns is a win-win situation. The commitment is short-term—usually four to eight months—salaries are lower and interns can help increase productivity. Interns also provide opportunities for existing employees to gain mentorship and leadership skills as well as experience identifying future talent. 

The best interns bring a certain set of competencies, connections, confidence and perspectives to your team. WMU interns are career-ready and prepared to take on meaningful projects. They have the critical thinking and communication skills to effectively work on teams and the confidence to ask questions and challenge norms. They also help increase awareness of your brand on WMU’s campus. 

The WMU Corporate Engagement team welcomes you to connect with us to learn more about setting up or enhancing an internship program at your organization at

Nick Koch cutting a piece of material on a drafting table.

Getting the most from your internship program 

1. Develop a plan to utilize an intern in a needed area of your business. 

2. Use the same hiring process you use to hire employees. 

3. Integrate your intern into the team to the greatest extent possible, including meetings, projects and training opportunities. 

4. Provide feedback for your intern so they can learn to grow and better assist your team. 

5. Hire your intern, who is now fully trained and familiar with your workflow.