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A win for business owners, students, and Minnesota

SciTechsperience connects Minnesota companies to top STEM talent 

Three years ago during his final year in the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering, Frances Chang (BME ’16) spent four months at Zurich Medical Inc. learning “a little bit of everything.” He landed the paid internship at the start-up in Plymouth, Minn., through SciTechsperience, a state-funded program that connects college students studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines to meaningful internships in small to mid-sized Minnesota companies.

Today, Chang is a manufacturing engineer, who successfully turned his internship into a full-time job at the company. Additionally, he helps mentor the new SciTechsperience interns—several of whom study at his alma mater.

“I think SciTech is very valuable, speaking both as a previous intern and as a full-time engineer,” said Chang, who first learned about the program in his sophomore year at the University of Minnesota.

“As a student looking for an internship, the SciTech program was invaluable in providing a clear and easy-to-use platform to find potential internships in a focused manner,” he said. “On the other side, as an engineer at a start-up, it provides one simple platform to allow our internship positions to gain visibility with the intended audience.”

And it also provides businesses with a reimbursement to cover 50 percent of their intern’s wages. What’s not to like about that?

SciTechsperience offers small, for-profit companies like Zurich Medical, with fewer than 250 employees worldwide, up to $2,500 per intern to help cover half their wages.

“Providing part of the intern's salary allowed us to hire as many interns as we required,” Chang said, “and helped stretch our limited budget.”

Since last summer, Zurich Medical has employed three CSE students among its four interns: Ryan Kruchten, in research and development (R&D) and manufacturing, Carl Schoephoerster, in R&D engineering, and Olivia Veloske, in engineering. Each has picked up new skills that have gone on their résumés. 

Schoephoerster learned how to more effectively communicate and was thankful for the “ah-ha moments that seemed to happen every week.” Kruchten knows a lot more about medical device testing. And Veloske, who also worked on actual medical devices, has gained a confidence she lacked before.

“If something looks intimidating,” she said, “try it anyway.”

State-funded, state-focused

The SciTechsperience Internship Program was established in 2012 by the Minnesota High Tech Association—with a grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“It’s like eHarmony for internships,” said Becky Siekmeier, program director. “Some business owners think it’s too good to be true—‘wait, you’re helping us find workers and providing the wage match?’ But it’s true.”

“The point of the program, and the reason the state is funding it, is to build and retain Minnesota’s STEM workforce,” Siekmeier said.

Since its start, SciTechsperience has placed more than 1,340 students in internships and nearly 1,700 students applied for positions in the last program year alone.

“Over and over, we’ve heard from SciTech participants that we’re a great resource,” said Siekmeier. “We’re a win-win for both students and companies.”

Siekmeier also knows this fact on a personal level. Her son, Kaleb Siekmeier, is a sophomore in CSE who is actively using SciTech to connect to internship opportunities as well.

“We have hundreds of companies in industries across the state doing cutting-edge research and innovation,” Siekmeier said. “And we want students to know: ‘There are so many well-paying jobs in STEM fields right here in Minnesota and we want you to stay.’”

There are at least 350 wage matches available through August 2019. The program is currently accepting both student and company applications.

“I do feel very grateful for the role SciTech played in allowing me to get my foot through the door into the medical and engineering industries,” Chang noted.

“It saved me both as an intern and as a representative of a potential employer countless hours of applications or creating job postings,” he said.

“We have for every year since I've been with Zurich hired interns through SciTech,” Chang added, “and I look forward to using it in the future to connect our company to the plethora of bright, talented, and successful future engineers looking for their next career opportunity.”

Story by Pauline Oo

Learn more about the SciTechsperience Internship Program and how you or your company can get involved at scitechmn.org.