Most students understand the importance of internships, but finding the right opportunity can be challenging. Because experiential learning is vital to the CWRU MEM program, matching students with industry partners was a top priority when Laura Marshall joined the staff in April—and she's placed 90 percent of the students who wanted positions as Commercialization Associates (CAs), with most of them starting work in September.
"The accelerated placement means these students will gain nearly a full year of work experience and a longer time to incorporate practical application of their MEM coursework," Laura says. "This is significantly greater than the typical eight-week college internship, making Case Western Reserve University MEM graduates highly productive upon entering the workplace." CA interns are sometimes hired by their employers for full-time positions after graduation, as they've demonstrated their abilities and fit with the organizations' cultures.
As Senior Business Director of Industrial Education Programs and Entrepreneurial Projects, Laura's primary focus is mentoring students and building relationships with the corporate community to increase awareness of the MEM program and the opportunities it offers to access engineering and management talent through course projects, internships, CAs, and full-time hires. When she came on board, she felt she could "hit the ground running" due to many long-term relationships in the engineering community from her 15 years with ASM International. She says the increased number of CA positions came from new organizations as well as from existing industry partners expanding their usage of CA talent. In addition, five CA positions came from the Partnership for Innovation.
Commercialization Associates work between 10 to 20 hours per week in paid positions, however, Laura stresses that the emphasis is on education. "These are experiences to support what's going on in the classroom," she explains. "The value for students is the realization of MEM knowledge through practical application, as well as the chance to increase their technical skills." Employers tell her they benefit from having the talents of "the best and the brightest" who are very quick on the uptake and are serious about their careers. Plus, they say students bring a different frame of reference. She says one shared that the CA had an idea to put out Twitter messages about a company product and explained how to use new media to accomplish marketing goals. Because the CA positions are part of the MEM educational program, employers are able to access international talent and CWRU handles the paperwork to ensure that non-domestic students are in compliance with all regulations.
Laura tries to bring employers closer to the students' classroom learning by talking about the curriculum, understanding their needs, and drawing parallels where possible. For example, she notes that all companies today are taking a project management approach; MEM students use project management software in their Summer Semester Project Management course. The program strives to keep coursework relevant to the needs of industry.
In looking at the other side of the matchmaking equation, she works one-on-one with students, asking each about his or her goals and interests as well as specific career direction. Then, she reviews employers' needs to find the experience that is most supportive of the student's objectives and will help in building a résumé. For example, one student wants to work for a start-up in the medical device industry, and Laura matched her with a regional technology development and consulting organization that assists early-stage companies. Another student also has a BME undergraduate degree, and would prefer to work for a large company; Laura placed her as a CA for a $2 billion materials company. "My role is that of liaison to assure that everyone benefits," she says. "That way, both the students and the employers will get more from the experience."
Her personal oversight will continue throughout the duration of the internships to monitor progress and resolve any issues that may arise—including making a change if it's not a good fit.
Opportunities for companies
Not all students want CA internships, and not all companies are located nearby or have that type of need. Class projects to be solved by MEM students teams are another important element of experiential learning. Laura is now reviewing companies with projects for the year-long Product and Process Design and Development class, taught by MEM Faculty Director and inventor/entrepreneur Dr. Gary Wnek and Weatherhead School of Management professor Dr. Stan Cort. Past projects have come from large corporations such as Timken and General Electric locally and Baxter Healthcare and Parsons from out-of-state, as well as from smaller companies, start-ups, and design firms. She also is looking for area companies that might offer plant tours and presentations for next Summer Semester's Materials and Manufacturing Processes class.
To contact Laura, call 216-368-5762, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.