Michigan Tech did their homework. The university knew it wanted to add an internship experience that would introduce students to the world beyond the small rural town in Michigan and help achieve its global aspirations.
Eighteen months later, Michigan Tech liaisons Professor Susanna Peters and Brent Burns joined us in D.C. as the final steps to sending students approached. Susanna Peters (SP) is the coordinator of the law and society program on the faculty at Michigan Tech and will be the academic liaison. Brent Burns (BB) is the director of federal and industry relations for Michigan Tech and serves as backup for any contingencies.
How did you first hear about The Washington Center?
SP: About 15 years ago, I was looking for internship opportunities for our students. I came to D.C. on my own to visit four different places and liked the TWC program. From that initial search and visit, I was able to get a few students to do the Academic Internship Program. Both of them got actual positions in D.C. following their internships. They were really happy. Unfortunately, the structure of our credit program made it impossible to continue and our attempt to send interns to D.C. just died. Then, a few years ago, Michigan Tech was ready to establish a program and we have been affiliated with TWC since fall 2018.
BB: For me, I started as the director of federal relations for Michigan Tech three years ago. One of the things I noticed when I started my Capitol Hill visits, our regular interaction with the Michigan delegation, was there were very few of our alumni on Capitol Hill. I asked about ways to get students more engaged and working on the Hill. One of the congressional offices told me about The Washington Center interns that work in their office. That led to a further investigation of looking at a few different internship programs in the D.C. area. Following reviews of the programs, TWC seemed to be the one to pursue a relationship with.
Why was Michigan Tech University interested in partnering with TWC?
SP: I think the breadth of the internships that students get through TWC and the success of the students that we sent before are testaments to its value. I was really impressed by what the students did while they were here. The portfolio they built and came back with is what kept TWC in mind for me.
BB: Immersive, experiential learning, those keywords, fit well with the Michigan Tech curriculum. We have a long tradition of internships. And TWC is a logical approach to get students that immersive, all-inclusive experience. Plus, we appreciate the TWC support system - housing, professional development - being in place for our students.
Were there initial barriers to affiliating with TWC and, if so, how did you work to overcome these barriers?
BB: We want this to be available to everyone, so in order to do that, we had to work through the ins-and-outs of creating courses that match our general education requirements. Our student body is about 7,200 students, almost 5,000 of which are in the college of engineering. The internship is housed in our social sciences department, thanks to Susanna and our chair of social science who really pushed to make this happen. We wanted to have part of the courses be general education, which took a little extra effort, but now any student can count those toward their degree, regardless of major.
SP: We had institutional resistance at first on the credit hours, as they were unfamiliar with what students would be doing for those credits. There was difficulty taking what happens here in D.C. and translating that into the 15 full semester Michigan Tech credits. We have fought to get 15 credits.
BB: What helped too is benchmarking other institutions, other places partnered with TWC. We would ask people from the registrar, the provost, please call your colleague at university of so-and-so. Ask them how they do it within their system.
SP: It worked because our registrar reached out to other Michigan schools to ensure it would meet the necessary requirements. That was key to our ultimate success.
When you were discussing partnering with TWC, what were some of the key points you emphasized to show awarding credit hours is worthwhile for students?
BB: First and foremost, it’s going to be great for the students. Michigan Tech wants this to be a component of attending the school, an experience that we would like to offer our students. Internships will be an option that students can fit into their career plans. Potentially, they may discover a new career that, without the internship experience, they might not have ever known. We’re growing a national brand name as a global university and need to get our students out there. This fits with that overall mission.
SP: Not everyone is aware of us. Michigan Tech is a smaller school, maybe one-tenth the size of Michigan or Michigan State. The campus is also tucked away in a remote area, but we have pretty awesome students we want to get out into the world and when they get out there, people really start to value them. Our students are hard workers. A lot of them are first generation. And they get into these workplaces and people love them because they have a work ethic that kills. We see TWC as a way to get them out there and get that experience.
Our students are hard workers. A lot of them are first generation. And they get into these workplaces and people love them because they have a work ethic that kills. We see TWC as a way to get them out there and get that experience.Brent Burns, director of federal and industry relations at Michigan Tech
How have other faculty members on campus learned about Michigan Tech’s partnership with TWC?
SP: That has been a lot of work. We have spent a lot of time emailing everyone and setting up meetings during TWC visits. It’s been slow going, we’re still in the early stages.
BB: We did have tours with some of the executive team, including the provost and all the players that created this partnership when TWC came to Michigan Tech’s campus. We have student info sessions, but to get faculty together for an info session and get that group making recommendations for what the students should do would help. Students are going to our faculty for career advice so it would be great to have them saying to look at TWC internships. We also have some student leadership programs on campus, like the honors college, working through entities like that, working with presidents of student organizations, looking for that special effort student, in addition to the work with the faculty.
What has been the greatest benefit of affiliating with TWC (for your campus and your students)?
SP: As an advisor, being able to say to a student, when they come to me and ask what to do next, I can say this is something that can help you look at your future and define that next step. I can say try this because it is something you can benefit from. I have two students who have applied and will do TWC next year.
BB: World problem solving, this is a place where policy on some of those problems is being solved. It’s exciting to have students start thinking they can think bigger and this is the place to do it.
We’re growing a national brand name as a global university and need to get our students out there. This fits with that overall mission.Susanna Peters, coordinator of the law and society program at Michigan Tech
What is your personal vision (or the campus’s vision) for Michigan Tech’s partnership with TWC moving forward?
BB: Two students is our real measurable goal. Start with two per year and grow to two per term and expand that to a point where it hits critical mass. I would like to have 10 students do the program each year. That seems to be that critical mass. A vision like that could be part of a curriculum requirement some day. Today it isn’t, but at other places it is. Tomorrow it could be.
SP: I really believe that the students should be off campus at some point. It would be interesting if everybody on our campus had to do an internship somewhere. For my department, humanities and social sciences, if we had 50% coming here and the other half going elsewhere, that would fit the ideal. We actually positioned TWC as a capstone project option into our social science curriculum. One way to fulfill that is with TWC. They can either take a bunch of courses on campus, but ideally, this is more interesting, fulfilling.
Michigan Tech believes their students will be interested in capitalizing on the program. Susanna and Brent see the need to plant seeds all over campus so there are multiple points of contact with TWC’s internship program for Michigan Tech students. The TWC program, in their view, helps students consider what they may or may not want to do, and have an invaluable experience. They want the decision on whether or not to do the program to be an easy one: GO.
Because, in Brent’s words, “A student finding their passion is a great sight to see.”