KALAMAZOO, Mich.—An innovative new paid internship program will ensure Western Michigan University students have access to resume-worthy, network-building experiences while also benefiting businesses in the community. Supported by the historic Empowering Futures Gift, the Broncos Lead Internship Program will fund up to 100 paid internships in its first year.
"We're really excited about this program and the opportunities it will create, both for our students and for the Kalamazoo community," says Andrea Page, assistant director of internships.
"Most of the innovations that the Kalamazoo Literacy Council has had over the last 12 years had something to do with a college student with a brilliant idea who wanted to try it out," adds Michael Evans, executive director of the Kalamazoo Literacy Council, which has committed to hiring three Broncos through the program.
Page has been working for months to connect with employers around the Kalamazoo area and create internship opportunities for the program, which focuses on nonprofits, minority-owned businesses, small businesses, startup businesses and businesses with a strong focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Students will be paid $15 per hour for 20 hours per week during the 12-week program. Unlike other internship programs, they will receive paychecks directly from their employer, but the funding itself will come from Western.
"When students are employed directly by a business or organization, it's more meaningful work. They tend to work harder because they feel as though they're part of the team," Page says. "And the ability for Western to pay the employers up front is huge to some of these small businesses and nonprofits who haven't been able to host interns in the past because they simply can't afford it."
Students can find Broncos Lead internship opportunities through Handshake, Western's job search tool. There are already dozens of positions posted with more than 35 Kalamazoo-area businesses and organizations in addition to the Kalamazoo Literacy Council, including the Kalamazoo Nature Center, Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation, Great Lakes PeaceJam and Public Media Network, to name a few.
"It's a great opportunity for the employer, but I also think it's a great opportunity for the college student to really be able to have a professional role, receive compensation and develop an understanding of what it's like to work within this type of environment," says Evans. Internships with his organization will focus on project management and taking a lead role in the planning and execution of annual events such as Kalamazoo Scrabble Fest or the annual Adult Literacy Research and Training Symposium.
"We were very purposeful in finding roles that we feel would be meaningful for us and have a significant level of responsibility and challenge to justify the type of compensation and separate their roles from volunteers we host," adds Evans. "At the very least, we will have some support that is meaningful. At the very most, we'll be able to develop some talent that will be able to run projects in the future—if not for us, then for other organizations."
Western is ramping up the impact of its education with Broncos Lead, combining the internship experience with holistic support and academic opportunities.
"This is a complete program; it's not just about the internship itself. Students will attend pre-internship workshops and paid professional development throughout the summer, gain mentorship and create a video presentation at the end that they will be able to add to their portfolio and share with potential employers," Page says. "We're just really excited about this whole program and also to give students a chance to get to know the Kalamazoo community."
By gaining direct, paid and on-the-job experience while building their skills and professional network, students who successfully complete the Broncos Lead program will be ready to pursue their purpose, enter their chosen field and contribute to the workforce and the larger community.
"We're incredibly grateful for this opportunity, because we know that having this type of support will really make a difference in bringing us the type of expertise that we need to continue to grow and sustain our programs," Evans says. "We're also very optimistic that this will be successful and hopefully it will be something that can be a model for scaling up, because our community needs this type of opportunity for our college students … to get those professional skills grounded before graduation."
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