Product design major gets a broad range of internship experience through Broncos Lead Internship Program

Contact: Emily Douglas

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—When Isabella Waite was applying to colleges, she hoped she might get some work experience relevant to her career goals in product design. What she wasn’t expecting was the remarkable range of high-quality paid internships she enjoyed while attending Western.

After spending one summer working for toy industry giant Melissa & Doug, Isabella capped her senior year with an internship at Grayling Ceramics in Kalamazoo thanks to the Broncos Lead Internship Program, which offers paid internship experiences to students starting their sophomore year.

While much of her time at Melissa & Doug’s headquarters involved a lot of “ideation, sketching and digital rendering” for products she might not see on shelves for a year or more, her work at Grayling this summer was hands-on and afforded her the opportunity to experience product design and production from start to finish. 

Isabella Waite and Anna Hurst hold pottery.

“The connections I have made and the skills I have learned through these internships are beyond what I could have ever imagined," says Waite.

“It was an interesting challenge to take on interns this summer,” says Shay Church, a former art instructor at Western and co-creator of Grayling Ceramics. “We’re a small business in an intimate space where we create around 400 pieces a week with just five employees and myself. I wanted to give them a well-rounded experience but also be mindful of the fact that they didn’t have prior clay experience.” 

Fortunately, ceramics was a special interest of Waite’s within her product design major.

“I really enjoy creating functional ceramic pieces, and my goal was to learn more about different production methods,” she emphasizes. “While at Grayling, I was slip casting tumblers, steins, growlers and pitchers. I also added handles to the steins and mugs before they were fired, helped with applying Grayling’s signature Michigan-themed decals to the pieces after they came out of the kilns, and was loading and unloading pieces in the kilns.”

Along with finding a paid internship that would help her cover tuition costs, gaining valuable experience in the small-business community was critical to Waite’s career interests.

“I’ve thought about either freelancing, crowdfunding or maybe even starting my own business in the future, so I found it really helpful to be immersed in a small business within the art and design community,” she says. 

Another added bonus of her immersive internship experience was getting to see Grayling products that she helped make out in the Kalamazoo community. “I see different businesses carrying Grayling products and am able to say ‘I helped make that stein or I helped make a product that will bring someone else joy,’ and that’s something I will cherish for a long time.”

Reflecting on the substantive and varied work experiences she stepped into during her time at Western, Waite is full of hope and gratitude.

“The connections I have made and the skills I have learned through these internships are beyond what I could have ever imagined.”