Making the Most of their Internships


College students return to the region for career-building internships.

For Michigan State University student Kimberly Verduzco, summer vacation doesn’t mean a hiatus from working toward career goals.

Verduzco, who studies advertising with a minor in public relations, is spending her summer working as an intern at economic development catalyst Southwest Michigan First.

“The thing that I wanted to work on the most [during my internship] is writing,” Verduzco says. One of her initial tasks is composing biographies of her fellow interns for placement on the Southwest Michigan First website and social media sharing.

At her desk in the company’s office in downtown Kalamazoo, Verduzco peers at her laptop screen through gold-rimmed glasses, clicking away on her keyboard as she translates her thoughts into digital form. She stops typing to join in a laugh with her fellow interns.

The four summer 2019 interns at Southwest Michigan First are studying throughout the Midwest, but they all call Southwest Michigan home.

Intern Jet Valentine, who goes to Miami University in Ohio, is working in the organization’s sales department.

“I am helping find leads for [targeted sales],” Valentine says of his role. “I spend a lot of my day doing that as well as various projects around the office. I’ve always wanted to work in media, so this is a really good opportunity for me to help book advertising [for 269 MAGAZINE]. It also helps [me work toward my] overall goal of understanding how business works—specifically sales.”

Verduzco, Valentine, and their colleagues are part of a large group of college students in the region who are spending their summers advancing their careers. A recent study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) showed that 97 percent of large companies plan to hire interns. Estimates of the total number of interns across the country range from one to two million.

Kim Weishaar, chief financial officer at Southwest Michigan First, says that internships are an important part of higher learning, as they teach students more about themselves and their desired career path than can typically be learned in a classroom.

“They have the opportunity to bridge the gap between what school life is like and what their working life may be,” Weishaar says. “They get a taste of their future and a chance to determine where their passions may lie.”

Verduzco echoes this sentiment. “I definitely think it’s building on top of the things that I’m learning in school. Getting to apply them is honestly very fun and challenging. Here, I really feel like I’m contributing.”

Southwest Michigan First set up its internship program to offer interns a taste of everything one could encounter in the workplace. It works to provide interns with a holistic view of the organization by involving interns—most of whom are studying sales and marketing—in other departments, like accounting or economic development.

Weishaar says she and her colleagues hope their interns have an experience that helps them decide on a career path and gives them a leg up in landing a great job.

The 2019 internship report from NACE showed that the incidence of employers converting their interns into full-time hires is on the rise—benefitting both the interns and the companies.

“The benefit for [companies] is [that internships] bring in fresh new perspectives,” Weishaar says. “It also gives companies an opportunity to build a [talent] pipeline.”

For students, internships can open a lot of professional doors. Southwest Michigan First is very intentional about creating networking opportunities for interns. It even scheduled three intern mixers during the summer of 2019.

“The intern mixers are part of our efforts to build a community of next-generation leaders in Southwest Michigan,” says Weishaar. “They are another way we are connecting young talent with companies in the region. The mixers give them the space to build a tribe.”

An intern’s view? “The mixers are great ways to get yourself out there, get to know people, and hear about other opportunities through what [your peers] are doing at their internship,” Verduzco says. “Networking is really important in establishing a professional presence.”

Weishaar encourages any interested interns to take part—and to seek out other events. “Be open to any opportunity that is presented to you. Just be eager to learn and meet new people.”

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