Broncos Lead Internship Program makes impactful debut

Contact: Erin Flynn

Stephanie Smietana, left, and Alecia Freeman, right, were among 89 students involved in the Broncos Lead Internship Program in summer 2023. Their experiences at Hamilton Law PLC with professionals such like Ean P. Hamilton, middle left, and Raven Britt, middle right, helped them gain skills they will take with them into their careers.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Empowering its first cohort of students through experience-driven education, the Broncos Lead Internship Program wrapped up its inaugural summer session with dozens of success stories. The program supported paid internships for 89 Broncos at 40 employers funded by the historic Empowering Futures Gift. 

"The Empowering Futures Gift is truly a gift. It's given so much more than just finances; the impact it's had on the development of our students and the Kalamazoo community is remarkable," says Andrea Page, assistant director for internships.

Andrea Page, pictured at DeLano Farms, completed site visits at all of the internships and made sure students were getting the most of their experiences.

The 12-week program paired students with nonprofits and startups as well as minority-owned and small businesses—employers that may not have had the opportunity to host an intern or pay them.

"As a small business, that was not an option," says Raven Britt, director of operations at Hamilton Law PLC. "We are very grateful to have this opportunity from Western to be able to compensate the interns."

"It's been a game changer, big time," adds Nora Selheimer, director of Children's Nature Playscape, a project dedicated to transforming a reclaimed green space in downtown Kalamazoo into a nature park. 

"We're small, so having (the Broncos Lead interns) here and having them funded by the program covered about 10% of our operational budget," she says. "That opened up a lot of doors for us in terms of how many more events we could do and how many more free public hours we could offer."

Page also offered training to employers on how to host interns and made site visits to ensure students got the most out of their experiences.

"Seeing all the students in their element and how they were able to articulate to me everything that was going on with the business was really impressive," she says. 

Students from nearly every college at Western were represented in the inaugural cohort, both from undergraduate and graduate programs of study.  Their experiences were wide-ranging, from accountancy students working as auditors to education students crafting curriculum and leading summer children's programs, and even a chemical engineering student testing and developing new natural formulations for fertilizer to help farmers in developing countries. Page can offer a story for just about every Bronco involved.

"There was a group of (social work and psychology) students who were at the YWCA, and they worked in emergency response. They put on a presentation for nurses to know how to respond to survivors when they come in for a crisis situation, and I thought that was outstanding," she says. "(Another student) was with the Kalamazoo Literacy Council, and she attended every single board meeting with the executive director. I thought that was so amazing that she was included."

students work together to build a structure out of marshmallows and spaghetti.

Teamwork is one of the many career skills students explored during professional development workshops throughout the program.

In addition to on-the-job experience, Broncos Lead offers wraparound support for students who participate. This includes biweekly paid professional development workshops led by Western staff, connecting Broncos to career resources and bolstering their resume-worthy skills. Topics for those sessions included:

  • Leadership

  • CliftonStrengths

  • Teamwork

  • Diversity, equity and inclusion

  • Professionalism and communication

  • Resume-building

"Having it connected to a larger curriculum, I think, makes the interns more motivated," says Selheimer. "There's more support; there's this network. We're learning from all of these different things, and as an organization, we get to benefit from the networking they're doing and the connections that they're making." 

Plans are moving forward to continue the summer internship program for the foreseeable future. Page anticipates recruiting even more community organizations to take part.

"It means a lot to me, ... whether it's by being able to connect students to the Kalamazoo community or allowing a nonprofit that never would have been able to afford it to host an intern," she says. "Having all of these different experiences for the students makes my heart so happy."