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Internship program connects students with STEM jobs in Minnesota

SciTech allows college students in the STEM fields to find internships at small Minnesota companies as a way a bolster the state's STEM workforce.

Ryan Gronlund
Recent Central Lakes College graduate Ryan Gronlund is shown with one of the machines he works with at Kit Masters, a manufacturing company in Perham. Gronlund interned with Kit Masters through the SciTech internship program and now works there full time. Submitted photo
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Increasing the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce in Minnesota is the goal of the Minneapolis-based internship program SciTech, and one local graduate is reaping the benefits.

Ryan Gronlund of Wadena graduated from Central Lakes College’s robotics and automation program in May and now has a full-time job at Kit Masters in Perham, thanks to SciTech.

Launched in 2012, SciTech is a government-funded program connecting college students in STEM fields with internships at small Minnesota companies with 250 or fewer employees. The goal is to build and retain the state’s STEM workforce.

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“There has been sort of a brain drain where a lot of our talents in engineering and computer science, especially, they head out to the coasts,” SciTech Program Director Becky Siekmeier said. “... Baby boomers are retiring. Minnesota is not growing as fast as it used to. And so there are labor shortages in these fields, especially in computer-related fields and in engineering. And so it’s important for Minnesota to invest in these types of jobs.”

Gronlund secured an internship through SciTech at Kit Masters during his final semester at CLC, working on various projects for the fan manufacturing company.

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“(Students) come to SciTech looking for assistance, and they find opportunities that they don’t see in other places because when you go to the career fairs … you’re not going to see companies that only have 20 employees there."

— Becky Siekmeier, SciTech program director


“The big project that we’ve been working on has been an assembly line that uses a laser engraver to engrave whatever parts that they want to send down through there,” Gronlund said.

So I spent a good chunk of time on that just kind of figuring out what parts we needed. And once we got those ordered in, we put them on — all the different sensors and all the air supply kind of stuff that we have.”

For companies like Kit Masters, which has about 40-50 employees, SciTech provides an opportunity to not only find and train qualified workers but also to accomplish even more work, according to manufacturing engineer Taylor Ericksrud.

“It allows us to complete more projects because sometimes there’s things that aren’t priority No. 1, but when you put an intern on it, it becomes their No. 1 priority,” Ericksrud said.

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SciTech reimburses companies for 50% of the intern’s gross wages, up to $2,500, which Siekmeier said is especially important, as the average size of the companies SciTech works with is about 20 employees.

Roughly 1,500 students apply for the program every year, but the number placed depends on funding. More than 2,100 students have participated in the program since its inception, and about 80% have stayed in Minnesota after graduation, which is the goal.

Siekmeier said she feels the program works well because it’s not metro-centric but reaches communities in all corners of the state. Local companies that have worked with SciTech include Pequot Tool and Manufacturing, AWS Research Labs, Deerwood Technologies and Magnum Research.

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Small companies need help finding talent, Siekmeier said, and students need help finding experience beyond ultra-competitive internship programs at Fortune 500 and other larger businesses.

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“(Students) come to SciTech looking for assistance, and they find opportunities that they don’t see in other places because when you go to the career fairs … you’re not going to see companies that only have 20 employees there,” she said.

Ericksrud is an alumnus of the SciTech program himself, now working with interns, so he has seen the benefits from both sides.

“Having that internship experience recently I think is good because you can kind of relate to what it feels like to start somewhere new,” he said.

In both Ericksrud and Gronlund’s cases, SciTech accomplished exactly what it set out to accomplish — bolstering small STEM companies in Minnesota.

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Now Gronlund is working in his chosen field, helping to automate technology and making life easier for workers and businesses all over.

“You’re taking all of your existing practices of how you manufacture something or assemble something, and you automate it, make it more user friendly so someone’s not standing on some assembly line just riveting two pieces of sheet metal together for 10 hours a day or whatever the business may end up doing,” Gronlund said.

For more information on SciTech and available internship opportunities, visit scitechmn.org .

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THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Related Topics: EDUCATIONCENTRAL LAKES COLLEGECLC
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