Washington College and Kent County have teamed up to create "Innovation Internships" for college students. The program offers interns the opportunity to expand their professional experience while giving businesses owners the chance to engage and develop the future workforce. With 1,500 undergraduates each year, there is an entire group of future workers available to these businesses that can gain fresh perspectives from interns.
Cultivating professional relationships between college students and local businesses is critical in rural areas like Kent County, where there is a concern about the migration of youth after graduating college.
"We want to help younger generations make roots in Kent County," said Jamie Williams of Kent County Economic Development. "One of the major objectives is to connect these students with the local communities."
The faculty and career center at Washington College handles the application and pairing process for its students. After a business submits the type of project and internship it has available, the career center works to connect students who have expressed interest in a similar type of opportunity.
The internships are paid and students also receive academic credit for their participation. Students are expected to intern roughly 140 hours a semester in addition to their other coursework.
The goal for the first semester of the Innovation Internship Program is to have five local businesses participating, with three already committed for the fall – Chesapeake CNC Manufacturing, The Inn at Huntingfield Creek, and Kent County Economic Development. The structure of the program is project-based, allowing students to build upon their skills in an interactive manner throughout their 12-14 week placement.
"There is a consulting-style approach to these projects as students bring fresh ideas throughout the duration of their internships. Having different generational perspectives is essential for business leaders," Williams said.
The Innovation Internship program eases the transition from college life to the workforce for students by equipping them with the necessary skills to succeed. It also forms relationships between businesses and the future workforce, giving these companies a chance to invest and connect with potential full-time employees.
"This program is invaluable to both businesses and students. The biggest obstacle businesses face is finding a trained workforce. This gives them a stake in the future workforce and the incentive to help students gain the essential skills that employers require," Williams said.